We’ve all been there… deciding on January 1 that this is the year we will lose 5kg/run a marathon/fall in love/write a really cool blog about champagne which has so many people across the globe anxiously awaiting the next witty, clever, insightful and poignant post that the Huffington Post will decide to publish your work in a regular column and I’ll live like Carrie Bradshaw! Oh wait, maybe that’s just me 😉
But did you know that only about 20% of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions? I like to think of myself as a high achiever and even I have made myself promises on New Year’s Day that I really had no chance or real intention of keeping.
Prompted by the low success rate and my own past failures, I did some research to find out…
Why do we #fail so badly at sticking to our resolutions?
Last month I listened to a Brene Brown podcast episode with James Clear, the author of the book Atomic Habits. Atomic Habits is a very clear, simple and compelling book that helps you break bad habits and build good ones.
If you want to make any changes to your life this year or set any big goals, I highly recommend the book. I listened to the audiobook… one of my favourite habits is to listen to audiobooks on my commute. I spend at least six hours a week in the car driving to and from work so I finished this book in a week.
I am not the only one listening. It is currently the #1 audiobook on Audible. It was the #1 best-selling book of the year on Amazon and spent every week of 2021 on the New York Times best-seller list. (No commissions or kickbacks… just sharing my honest opinion).
Perhaps the quote from his book that connected with me the most was this quote….
“You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”
I love this quote because the problem with a lot of new year’s resolutions or any goal we set ourselves, is they are overly concerned with the end goal. That is the “lose 5kg/run a marathon/fall in love/write a really cool blog” part.
You may well be thinking “Isn’t that the point – to set goals?” but the experts have found the key to success actually lies in having realistic expectations of the actions or habits needed to achieve the goal. And a plan to perform the actions or habits.. consistently.
While I haven’t set new year’s resolutions in years, at the start of every year, I do look back on the past year and think ahead to what I want to achieve or become in the coming year. And I make commitments to what I am going to do to get there.
What trips me up is always the doing, not the planning.
As I get older, I am realising more clearly that my successes and setbacks are less about what I do, but what I find hard to resist or say ‘NO’ to getting in the way. I can’t add more hours to the day, so to create time for new habits, I must be prepared to stop doing or let go of certain things. I blame the high achiever in me who still wants to think I can do and have it all.
But that doesn’t stop me from picking myself back up every year, taking what I learnt last year and trying again.
Here’s what I learnt over the last year that I’ll be using to help me build new habits to reach my goals.
I love ambitious goals… but no matter how big and bold the goal, I’ve learned to always start small. Small changes, small habits, small sacrifices and build on them. James Clear describes it like compound interest – the effects of your habit multiply as you repeat them.
This is where I got it all wrong last year. At the start of 2021, I decided I wanted to do more yoga. Looking back now, I have no idea what I was thinking when I decided to radically quit all my other exercise to focus on just yoga. Unsurprisingly, I found it hard to stick to such a radical commitment. I ended up completely abandoning my goal by April, totally disappointed in my unrewarding yogi life and having lost almost all of my strength and fitness, I really struggled to get back into running or weights training again.
A year older and wiser, I still have a longing to explore yoga so I am going to take a less extreme approach and start taking one yoga session a week.
Replace habits rather than trying to stop or start something from scratch
Even our bad habits offer some benefit to us that makes it hard to eliminate them. Which is why simply deciding to “just stop doing it” rarely works.
I’ve found it’s much easier to replace a habit with something that offers a similar reward.
I want to write more but I find it really hard during the working week to find the time and a clear, creative headspace for it. This year I tried committing to writing at the end of the day but after looking at a computer and writing (or reviewing other people’s writing) all day, I find it is much more appealing to “relax” watching something on Netflix than to log on and write. Looking at the problem like that, my real challenge is to find a way to make writing feel more relaxing.
This year, I am going to do something I have never done before and start writing a daily journal. I am still writing, but I am writing with a pen (and not staring at a screen again), and I can write about anything I am feeling or thinking about rather than sticking to a schedule of working on a blog or a social media post.
Never rely entirely on motivation
One of the questions I get asked a lot (almost as much as “How does someone become a champagne blogger”) is…
“OMG… How do you stay motivated to work out every day?”
My short answer is… I don’t! Motivation is like a bad boyfriend… never there when you really need it. (I love that grab but I didn’t make it up, the credit goes to Aussie fitness guru Michelle Bridges).
There are MANY, many days when I don’t feel at all ‘motivated’ to exercise. Using motivation as your only driver is dangerous because it is always going to lead to highs and lows in your performance.
Instead, I work out because I have made a commitment to do it and thanks to my past experience, I know it will eventually move me closer to my goals.
If my Monday commitment is to run 5kms, every Monday that commitment gets me out of bed. If I am feeling a little lacklustre (or if you like unmotivated), I might run a little slower or stop more often but what counts is that I still run. 5km. Every Monday.
My alarm goes off, I get out of bed and I work out. I don’t think about it. And I NEVER negotiate with myself.
And I’ve found when I follow through on a commitment consistently, it suddenly becomes a habit and we know habits are hard to break – even the good ones.
It took me many, many years to get to this point of making exercise a habit. What I better understand this year is the reason it is now so easily habitual. James Clear explains the behavioural psychology behind habits as a four-step process of cue, craving, response, and reward.
The cue is my alarm going off in the morning; the craving is the post-exercise endorphin high I feel when I do work out; the response is the action I take to get up and get it done; and the reward is being fit and healthy and strong.
I might have the exercise habit down pat, but other habits I am still trying to form need some work and I recognise that is mostly about not really feeling the reward. So until I feel that, it won’t really be a habit and will stay a commitment.
The best way I’ve found to make the leap from commitment to habit is to…
Write it down and track your progress
Coming back to the four-step process of cue, craving, response, and reward, writing down and tracking my commitment provides a visual cue to remind me to do it while the habit is still forming. It also increases my awareness of how I am tracking or making progress which helps to trigger craving and reward.
Other words for craving are desire or motivation.
Now when I talked about motivation above I said I never rely entirely on motivation and using motivation as your only driver is dangerous.
Where motivation is actually a great tool is when you can use motivation to your advantage to celebrate the wins and calibrate your opportunities. Success is a natural and easy motivator but strangely sucking at something actually is motivating for me too. I hate NOT crushing a goal or sticking to my commitment, so sucking at something can serve to fire me up more than anything.
You probably know I can get geeky about champagne, but I also get a bit geeky about my goals too. So geeky that when I am really serious about something, I actually do daily, weekly and monthly reviews of my important goals (from fitness to finances). Daily and weekly are usually just a record but for my monthly review, I also:
- Look at what I did and what I got for it (the good and not-so-good)
- I celebrate my wins and successes and commit to doing more of what worked AND …
- I look even harder at what didn’t seem to work so well and either:
- Ditch it if I really got nothing out of it or if it worked OK but I really didn’t enjoy doing it. I’ll never commit long-term to something that I genuinely dislike no matter how well it worked for someone else. The cues, craving, response and reward process actually work against you so instead I acknowledge it and move on… sooner rather than later.
Or try harder. If it did have some effect and I enjoyed even parts of doing it, I commit to work at it for at least three months, making a few changes to improve the results and reviewing them next month.It might sound like a lot of work and I guess it is. But nothing really awesome in life ever comes easily. It all comes down to deciding how badly you want something and making the commitment. And there’s nothing more powerful than knowing you kept the most important commitment of all – the commitment you made to yourself. And if that’s not a reason to pop a special bottle of champagne, I don’t know what is. Whatever you decide you want next, I hope you have a happy, healthy, bubbly time chasing it down. If you’ve got a new habit or goal you’re committed to in 2022, tell me all about it in the comments below or tag me on social media @bubbleandflute #happychamper XX Marnie Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country.