Let me ask you something: Did you stick to your New Years Resolutions last year?
Do you even remember what they were?
Don’t be ashamed, if you’re like most people, chances are you failed to stick to at least SOME of your New Years resolutions.
Lets be honest, most people make the same resolutions over and over, and never seem to make lasting change in their lives. They start out the year with good intentions, of exercising regularly, eating healthy, working harder, cultivating confidence, yet a couple of weeks into January they are back to their old habits again.
But some people are successful in changing their habits. They stick to their New Years resolutions throughout the year. For them, the end of the year is a great time to measure their progress, and to set even higher goals for the year to come.
So what is the difference between those who stick to their New Year’s resolutions and those who don’t? What is the difference between those people who reach their goals of weight loss, fitness, new relationships, new wealth, and those who give up? Let me tell you, it’s not their willpower, luck, genetics, how close the nearest gym is, how “busy” they are, or any of the other excuses that people give for not reaching our goals.
In fact, the difference between those who achieve their goals, and those who don’t, between those who successfully change their behavior long-term, and those who keep doing the same old thing year in and year out, is very, very simple.
People who change their behavior over the long run also change the beliefs that cause their behavior.
Put another way, it is nearly impossible to make long-term changes to your behavior without also changing the way you think!
Lets use the example of fitness, since that’s a pretty common New Years Resolution that most people can relate to. The people who keep going to the gym week after week, and go from flabby to fit after a full year of solid effort are the people who didn’t just make a pledge to go to the gym, but who actually managed to change their entire attitude towards exercise and fitness.
And the people who fail to stick to their New Years resolutions? Usually, they are those who just try to change their behavior, without addressing the underlying beliefs and thought patterns that cause the behavior in the first place!
For me the big change in my fitness happened when I stopped seeing going to the gym as a chore I did to get something, and instead started seeing it as a reward in itself. I adopted the thought patterns and beliefs of an athlete. If you talk to really fit people they all have this exact same attitude.
For example, fit people say things like
“When I have a hard day at work, nothing gets the stress out like a good workout”
“a good workout energizes me”.
Unfit people say things like:
“When I have a hard day at work, I’m too tired to go to the gym”
“I don’t have enough energy left over at the end of the day for exercise”
Notice the difference? For the fit person, a workout is fun and energizing and a stress reliever, but for the unfit person, a workout is just work, something you maybe do to lose weight and look fit, but not something you would do unless you had to.
People who see workouts as a chore find every excuse to avoid them, and while they may see limited results, they’re not going to change their lifestyle at the deep level. But you can change your attitude towards working out. This is the essence of learning how to motivate yourself, and one of the best skills you can learn.
So, how do you change your attitudes and beliefs in order to stick to your New Year’s resolutions?
There are two parts to changing your beliefs – the first part is addressing and dealing with negative beliefs you might have accumulated that hold you back, and the second is creating new positive beliefs that motivate you towards success.
If you have never even tried to get into shape before, you may not have any negative attitudes towards exercising, and so you can skip the first step. But if your New Year’s resolution is something that you’ve tried to do before and failed, it’s very likely you have a belief that is holding you back.
Step One – Diagnose the problem: If you failed to achieve your goals in the past, close your eyes, and try to visualize the moment where you had trouble. So for example, if you previously procrastinated and made excuses not to go to the gym, visualize yourself getting ready to go to the gym. If you visualize this accurately, you are going to experience an emotional reaction at some point that makes you want to procrastinate. What is the emotion you feel when the urge to procrastinate hits you? How does it feel? Is it a feeling of dread, or anxiety, or obligation? It may help to write this down.
Once you have identified the emotion that you you associate with this task, explore it a little, analyze it. Where does it come from? If you could express that emotion as a thought, what would the thought be? For me it was “working out is a chore”. For you it could be “working out is tiring”, “the gym is gross and smelly”, “I don’t fit in”, “people are looking at me”, “I don’t feel like it’s working” “I’m too busy”. It doesn’t need to be just one belief, sometimes there are several beliefs holding you back!
Sometimes, the subconscious beliefs that are holding us back are completely contrary to the FACTS we know in our mind. For example, often people subconsciously believe or “feel” that exercise won’t “work” for them, despite the fact that they know that proper exercise is virtually guaranteed to lead to better health for everyone!
Once you have identified a limiting belief, think about it a bit. Is that belief rational? Is there a simple way to go about changing it? If you believe, for example, that your gym is gross and smelly, you really have two options: you can find a nicer gym, or you can learn to accept the gym you have. However, the third option – forcing yourself to go to a gym you find disgusting, is setting yourself up for failure.
Step Two – Create an Antidote: Once you have identified the limiting belief that is holding you back, the next step is to work towards changing that belief. Sometimes, it is enough for us to simply realize that our beliefs are irrational or counterproductive, but often a deep-seated belief requires work, or mental exercise to eliminate.
Most people, when dealing with an irrational belief, try to suppress their negative thoughts. So they might say “the gym isn’t smelly” or “stop thinking that working out is a chore”, however, this is counter productive. You can’t think of a negative – instead, you need to distract yourself, and replace the negative thought with a positive thought.
So for me, because my negative belief was “working out is a chore”, I decided to replace my belief with “working out is fun”. If your limiting belief is “working out is too tiring”, change that to the more useful belief “working out gives me energy in the long run”, if your limiting belief is that the gym is gross or uncomfortable for some reason, the antidote is accepting the gym for what it is.
Step Three: Administer the Antidote - now that you have figured out what new beliefs you want to instil in yourself, the next step is to try to drill these beliefs deep down into your brain. It’s not enough to just consciously think these new thoughts, you need to practice them until they are part of your natural way of looking at the world. Here are two good ways to drill yourself into acquiring new beliefs.
- Affirmations: Just as exercise shapes your body, thinking or saying things over and over to yourself shape your habitual thought patterns. When I started changing my beliefs about exercise, I would be on the treadmill saying “exercise is fun!” over and over to myself. It sounds silly, but over the course of just a few weeks it really changed my attitude towards exercise in a deep way.
- Visualization: Visualization is a very powerful way to change your deep behaviour. When you visualize something, in great detail, your subconscious tends to treat it as if it were a real experience. When I was on the treadmill, jogging, instead of visualizing wanting to go home and watch TV, I would visualize myself feeling stronger and healthier and more energetic with every step. Suddenly, the “burn” of working out was a positive thing, and not a negative thing. So just turn your new belief into a visualization, and make it as real as possible. That means using smell, taste, feelings and sound as well.
Step 4: Experience: Finally, you need to go out and follow through on your commitments diligently, to make them into new habits. There is no real change without action!
Follow these four steps and I guarantee you you’ll find it so much easier to follow through on your New Year’s resolutions that next year you’ll feel motivated to pursue even greater challenges. And just remember, you can’t change your behavior in the long term unless you change your way of thinking.
Here are some links to some of my favorite sites that might also help you stick to your New Years Resolutions: Productivity: Asian Efficiency Lifestyle: Tynan’s Blog Fitness: Fitness Subreddit Dating: Love Systems