Earlier this year we published this story on sticking to your New Year’s resolution. It provides insight on maintaining motivation and momentum when trying to change or improve something in life. Even so, 80 per cent of people who pledge to make a significant change reportedly fall behind or break that promise to themselves. In fact, January 12 is apparently the date on which people are most likely to break their resolution.
Five ways to think about getting back on track
The Easter holidays are just around the corner. This period is traditionally a time when we think about change, probably because there’s less hectic routine and (hopefully) more time to relax and tune out.
Your thoughts may turn to that bad habit, household project or promise that you made to yourself — maybe the one you tried to change in January but haven’t gotten around to doing yet? Perhaps you tried for a while there but now it nags away in the background. Maybe it’s distressing or you’re embarrassed?
Whatever your thoughts, the good news is that it is absolutely possible to get back on track, even after a setback. Here are five helpful ways to get back into the mindset for positive change.
1) Adjust your expectations
Consider the following scenario.
Two people must run a 10km race. One is out of shape, has never run the distance, decides to give it a go nonetheless and gets a short way before stopping. The other has dedicated months to hard training, has a good start, but bows out near the end after an unexpected injury.
Both people have not achieved their goal. However, the person who was expecting success will likely feel far more disappointed than the person who had no expectations. That, in turn, could affect their motivation, whereas the person who tried but didn’t get far may even feel inspired to have another go.
Tip: Attempting positive change — while appreciating that there is a realistic possibility that you may not do as well as you’d like to — can make setbacks feel like they are easier to handle. With this mindset, a single setback won’t define your motivation.
2) “Eat the frog”
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.”
This humorous quote has been widely misattributed to the famous writer Mark Twain. Even so, it is grounded on some useful advice, namely, that starting your daily tasks by first doing the thing you want to do least (perhaps the one you’ve put off the longest?) can help make other things seem less stressful or unpleasant.
Do you need to break some bad news to someone, book in the car or make that GP appointment? These situations may cause distress, disruption or anxiety. It’s precisely why we put them off. However, this also means they don’t get resolved and we end up avoiding certain topics with people, driving around with the anxiety that the car may break down, or worrying about those weird health symptoms.
Tip: Remember the point about realistic expectations? We put things off because we expect them to be distressing or difficult. Once you get them out of the way, you’ll (probably) not only be filled with a sense of achievement, but your perspective and expectation of the difficulty of other tasks will likely improve too.
3) Don’t buy into the hype
Advertising, home improvement shows and social media have a lot to answer for. They would have us believe that perfect abs and a flat stomach are within reach if you just stuck to that diet, that full kitchen refurbishments happen smoothly over an effortless weekend, and that your friends on social media lead happy and always exciting lives.
In fact, DIY shows rarely show the stress, disagreements and meltdowns from major home renovations. The overwhelming number of people who try diets don’t stick to them. And your friends on social media may be more likely to post about their relationships if they’re feeling less secure.
News organisations attract more eyeballs by publishing dramatic, eye-catching headlines. In many ways, this is similar to every-day interaction — we tend to notice and engage in conversations that stand out or are interesting, rather than delving into the mundane and ordinary.
Tip: Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to how you perceive the world around you. Much of the process of positive life change is unexciting and routine. It’s just that we tend to hear far less about the actual process of change.
4) You don’t need (to wait for) a date
January 1 was a day just like any other. The earth once more rotated on its axis and the weather did what it usually did around that time of year.
Yes, you were probably on holidays, there was much talk in the news about hoped for change in the coming year, and you probably had time to consider your own desired positive life changes. But why must something so important depend on a date on the calendar?
Everyone procrastinates and puts things off. We look for reasons to justify our actions. When that happens, it’s easy to kid ourselves into believing that, in order for something to occur, it must begin after a certain date.
Tip: What’s the best time for returning to the gym, trying again to quit smoking, or resuming that project? It’s when you feel you are best able to start. It doesn’t have to be an anniversary or calendar date. It’s when you’ve got the motivation to make it happen. Is there a reason why that date can’t be today?
5) Don’t let your virtue become your vice
There’s an old joke that the worst kind of non-smoker is an ex-smoker. According to the stereotype, an ex-smoker scolds other smokers because they’ve totally been there and, oh boy, they can’t believe they used to be like that!
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, whether it’s a recent gym convert who puts down people who are less fit, or the co-worker who cycles in every day and won’t stop schooling everyone on why bikes are better than cars.
If you’ve successfully made that big change in your life, then give yourself a deserved pat on the back. However, don’t become a person whose very motivation for embracing change makes them less connected to the people around them.
Tip: Lead by example and don’t lose track of why you made that hard change in the first place. You’ll win people’s respect — and if you do ever fall behind, they’ll be more likely to want to help you back on your feet.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.