Do you even need a better approach to resolutions? You tell us. But just in case you’ve been struggling to stick to your new year goals, here are a few insights which might help.
If you set any new year resolutions at all, we’re betting they involved giving something up. We’re also betting that the something you wanted to give up is a something which felt pleasurable in the short term, but wasn’t having such a great effect on your overall wellbeing.
May we lay a final bet? We’re betting that it’s been tough to sustain. You’ll have flagged. Your good intentions may even have fallen by the wayside entirely. And if you’re like most of us, you’re probably continually kicking yourself for a lack of willpower.
But please go easy on yourself. It’s not your fault if you find resolutions difficult to keep.
It’s Time for a Better Approach to Resolutions
All your resolutions to give things up, though well intentioned, have one big problem: they’re dead men’s goals. Which is to say they’re things a dead man would find it easier to achieve than a live one.
Not to knock the idea of giving up on self-destructive behaviours, you understand. It’s just that by framing your good intentions negatively, you could be making things harder for yourself.
There are a lot of slightly flaky articles online explaining that this is because your unconscious doesn’t process negatives, so when you resolve to give up smoking you’re effectively instructing yourself to smoke.
Psychodynamics isn’t really our area of expertise, obvs, but we’re inclined to think it’s more that most of us rebel against being told what to do, even if it’s ourselves doing the telling. And then there’s the whole issue of willpower.
You Can’t Rely on Willpower
We’ve long thought of willpower as a quality of personality, or a function of mind (the clue’s in the name, really). But psychological research suggests that willpower is at least partly in the body.
Willpower may also be a finite resource, kind of. Which means that, like an overtired muscle, if you over-tax your willpower, it’s going to fail you.
The good news is that you can train your willpower, just as you can train an out-of-condition muscle. You just have to go about it in the right way, by practicing small acts of self-control.
Loose Ends Can Help You Find a Better Approach to Resolutions
One key to keeping your resolutions is what psychologists call an ‘implementation intention’ (and what we call having a contingency plan). Here’s how it works.
Don’t tell yourself you’re giving up cake, say, or having a dry January. Instead, move forward on a case-by-case basis.
Promise yourself that whenever temptation hoves into view, you’ll do something specific to help you resist it. So, if you’re in the pub and your aim is to drink less alcohol, you could decide to substitute every second round with a glass of water (or a weak shandy, just for appearances sake).
Note that the implementation intention strategy involves making positive choices. Here’s where Loose Ends can help.
Whereas dead men’s goals are what you do in miserable isolation, strengthening your willpower by making small, positive choices requires the presence of other people.
That’s why a better approach to resolutions this January—and beyond—involves downloading the Loose Ends app, and getting together with the people who mean the most to you.