New Year’s Resolutions: I’m starting a diet… on Monday!

My Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds are bursting with New Year’s resolutions. Weight loss, budget plans, and being more mindful are top themes. People have decided to unfriend, unfollow and unlike those who were negative influences last year. Out with the old, in with the new! There is a distinct sigh of relief that it will be another year before annoying Aunt Mildred comes to visit!

New Year's Resolutions

There are few people who do not set New Year’s resolutions, even if the resolution is to have no resolutions. A “fresh start” for most is therapeutic. I always remember buying a new diary each year and felt excited to imagine what would fill the pages. It was an annual ritual of mentally preparing for the year by writing in important birthdays, events and appointments. A recent Facebook status made me realise that I’ve lost this ritual since switching to an electronic diary. Note to self: find replacement diary ritual (first resolution!)

Why do most people set goals (particularly dietary ones) on a Monday? Cognitively, we find it easier to start a new behaviour at the beginning of a working week – even better when it’s the start to the New Year. We also love how it can justify all the indulgence the weekend (or festive season) before!

Some experts believe in starting on a Monday. My view is that if you want to make changes, start immediately. If you want to lose weight, you are making it extra difficult by finishing all the chocolate in the house so that it “doesn’t go to waste.” If you want to start a budget and savings plan, you are making it extra difficult by buying that unnecessary plasma screen before you cancel your credit card on Monday.

No matter what your goals are for 2014, the cliché “change is as good as a holiday” is true. The start of a year is likely to find you rested, refreshed and raring to go. And I say go for it!

Some tips for making (and maintaining) resolutions:

  • Make goals realistic. This may seem so obvious, but cycling the Cape Argus in March might not be the most achievable goal if you received your first bicycle for Christmas. Realistic goals are more achievable and reinforce continued change.
  • Set smaller, short-term goals. They can lead you to realize some bigger, long-term goals. Most of us become disillusioned if the bigger goals are not achieved (which usually take time) and then retract to previous unhealthy behaviours. Saving for a deposit on a new home may start with smaller goals like cutting out the artisan coffees on your way to work or selling unused items through a garage clearance.
  • Be aware of overly optimistic expectations. As I wrote in a previous blog post, we need to be positive, but if our expectations are overly optimistic, we will find ourselves reacting negatively and giving up easily. For example, believing that you’ll be fast-tracked to Chairman before becoming a manager, will leave you despondent, angry and unlikely to continue feeling motivated in the workplace. It comes back to being realistic.
  • Don’t forget the bigger picture. Remind yourself why you want to make these changes. Write yourself a letter today about why they are so important to you – you can re-read this letter at times when the bigger picture seems distant and faint. It may be that you had a health scare over the holidays and for a moment, you imagined how your family would cope without you. Remind yourself that healthy changes are still essential, even if your symptoms have improved.
  • Reframe goals into lifestyle changes.Think about someone you admire, a mentor who you feel has achieved some of the goals you have written down. You’ll find that most have worked hard to achieve them. They did not implement a “quick fix” and it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes they fell down, but they did get up again. They made lifestyle changes – they learnt to believe in themselves, they realised it was okay to ask for help and they decided to be more present (mindful).

Please note: This blog post was written on the first Monday of 2014!