Many of us end the year with the best intentions of the following one being our best yet. The year we’re going to get ripped in the gym, land that promotion or start saving for a house. But in reality the statistics on new year resolutions are pretty dire. According to a recent study, just 8% of people who made resolutions will see them through to the end of the year and only 25% will make it to the end of January. In short, come 1st January, all of December’s overindulging forces us to make big plans we’re never going to stick to.
So, we’ve enlisted the help of Dr Meg Arroll, Chartered Psychologist of Healthspan to find simple, reasonable ways to stay motivated throughout the year, rather than setting huge, unrealistic life changes. We interviewed her for her expert advice, here’s what she had to say…
Why do people lack motivation?
The concept of motivation or lack of it may be a problem in itself as it infers that we are not good/strong/resilient enough, or in other words, a failure. This can lead to a cycle of self-recrimination and shame which isn’t helpful for behaviour change and forming new habits. Lack of motivation is rarely the issue in my experience, rather we all have a set of barriers on our journey to achieving what we desire. Some of these can be practical but a lot of the time they are do with our beliefs – for instance, someone wants to lose weight but after about a month continually falls off the diet wagon. There may be limiting beliefs here such as “I don’t know why I bother to try; I’ll never lose weight long-term anyway” so it’s important to check in with ourselves and dispel any of those sabotaging beliefs.
Are there any simple tricks that can get someone out of a motivational slump?
It sounds small, but change your computer password to something positive, helpful and uplifting – we use passwords multiple times a day so this will act as a positive thought filter to help you stay on track with your goals. Try your own combinations – for example ‘[email protected]!’ or ‘[email protected]’.
On a weekly basis, write a gratitude journal of at least three things you are grateful for – these can be big or small, such as observing a sunny day. By appreciated what we have, we tweak our mindset to be more open to possibilities which helps on the road to behaviour change.
Research shows that when we state our intentions to others, we have a better chance of reaching our goals. Do what’s most comfortable to you, whether this is online, with a group at work or within your family, and check in each month for support and encouragement.
And what if that’s not working? What therapies are available that could help?
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) with a trained therapist can help join the dots between the way we think, feel and resultant behaviours that may be holding us back from reaching our goals. This is a structured therapy which has been shown time and time again in research studies to alleviate anxiety and depression, both of which can make us feel quite stuck in our lives. Health and performance coaching are also good alternatives as a coach will use techniques to shift any mental blocks to goal attainment.
Motivation doesn’t necessarily mean having the get-up-and-go to start something, it might be that you want to stop making bad choices, e.g. smoking, eating badly or ending a toxic relationship. Any tips for motivating yourself to make these kinds of changes?
It’s actually much more effective to replace a negative behaviour than trying to create a new one – this is because our behaviours act as a response to our context (emotional, psychological, social, cultural, etc.). We can change our response to something healthier and more progressive but can’t always change the circumstances we find ourselves in. Therefore, explore what’s triggering each bad choice and find new ones that work for you, for instance exercise, speaking to a friend or doing something creative like art-making.
If there is one thing you’d recommend doing daily to help motivation, what would it be?
Don’t beat yourself up for any slips ups. This will be a sure-fire way to spiral into a negative thought pattern that will make it almost impossible to get back on track. Compassion and acceptance that we are all only human goes a very long way in helping to keep a goal-focused mindset. If you are prone to perfectionistic tendencies this can be challenging so it’s worth shifting to a ‘good enough’ mentality.
What is the secret to setting goals and seeing them through?
Make goals SMART – this means breaking down each main goal into mini-goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. For example, if your overall goal for 2020 is to become more physically fit, your first mini-goal for fitness could be “I’ll go for a brisk 20-minute walk, three times a week for two weeks”. At the end of the fortnight re-evaluate, celebrate your success and step-up to the next mini-goal. All too often we only look at the big goals without having a roadmap to reach them – by breaking this down into bitesize pieces and marking each achievement, we can maintain a positive and empowering mindset.
How can people stay positive when things go wrong?
Behaviour change isn’t a linear progression, there are always dips and trips along the way. Utilise your support networks as research shows that social support is predictive of behaviour change and goal attainment. We are social creatures and were never meant to go it alone as much as we might feel we should in this individualistic society. Reach out, connect with others and know that when things go wrong it’s all part of the process.
For more information on Dr Meg and Healthspan visit Healthspan.co.uk