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How to ensure that you stick to your new year's health resolutions this year

We think that willpower is enough to power us through our fitness goals.  Turns out that it isn't. 

Writing out why you've embarked on something helps you stick to it (Tim Mossholder (Unsplash))

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Have you given up your new year's resolution for good? My sympathies and condolences, if you have.

I'm sure you were excited when you first dreamt up your master plan for a "New Year, New You." I'm guessing you even splurged on a new gym wardrobe and matching water bottle. Maybe a cookbook or two.

The first few days of breaking your old routine to make time for your new gym membership felt thrilling, almost luxurious, even. You bragged to your friends about how well it was going. You posted a few #sweatyselfies and a couple of ornately decorated yoghurt bowls under #foodie on social media. But, almost imperceptible to you at the time, your excitement began to decrease steadily. It became harder to say no to your old routine, and your reasons to get to the gym became less and less compelling.

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All the reasons you had to get fit and healthy now pale in comparison to all the "life" happening around you. Work has deadlines, your mother-in-law has been asking for help, your kids suddenly have piano lessons, and you don't have the car again to take you to the gym. On the other hand, your clothes still fit, and no one has called you out for missing your green juice, so you slide under the radar and skip your regular appointment with your trainer. 

Suddenly, your dream of being more confident slips into the background, and you return to your old routine and adopt your old unhealthy habits like a comfortable blanket you've had for years.

The statistics say you're in good company if this sounds like you. According to global public opinion and data company YouGov, only a meagre 5-6% of American survey respondents stuck to their 2018 resolutions.

 This isn't to suggest that we shouldn't aspire for change. On the contrary, creating goals and embarking on personal development and challenges is how we elevate ourselves and become the people we know we can be. But unfortunately, we don't come pre-loaded with "successful software" that provides us with the tools, resources, and self-discipline to smash our goals. Instead, we rely on outdated advice that tells us to knuckle down, grin and bear it, pull up our socks, go "cold turkey," and use our willpower to persevere until the bitter end. 

In all my years of coaching, I have found one universal truth in goal setting: willpower alone will not help you achieve your goal. According to the American Psychological Association, at its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations to meet long-term goals. However, I've never seen a positive result to the old advice "just try harder," in fact, quite the opposite. When people fall short of their goals, they are often left disillusioned and start preparing early for their "inevitable and eventual" failure on their next try.

Willpower doesn't always help you make better choices
Willpower doesn't always help you make better choices (Andres Ayrton (Pexels))

All of their mental strength seems to diminish like a car running out of gas, and soon I'm being ghosted by my clients because they are afraid to admit that didn't succeed. They bury their perceived failure, and in my experience, that perception sprouts and grows as self-sabotage on a later try. I want to assure them that running out of willpower is normal and not an effective strategy for long-term success, and they shouldn't judge themselves too harshly.

Also read: Do we really need 10,000 steps a day?

Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, "One of the most replicated findings in the field of willpower research is that people who use willpower seem to run out of it…Trying to control your temper, ignore distractions, or refuse seconds all tap the same source of strength. The research also shows that willpower decreases over the day, as your energy gets "spent" on stress and self-control."

She also says that we cannot access our willpower to the same degree in times of extreme stress, and I think it's safe to say that we're all pretty stressed right now.

So if willpower is inherently doomed to fail, what will help us win? I have found a way to increase your likelihood of success from the word "go," an incredible motivational tool. It's called "why power,"; the power of asking yourself "why ."There is a lot to unbox about this straightforward question, and it's more powerful than you think.

According to the University of Washington researchasking a question increases the likelihood of making a behaviour change. Instead of saying "what is my goal" ask yourself, "why do I want to achieve this goal," or, "why is this goal important to me"?

Five pounds on the scale is just your momentary weight measured in numbers, but often our reasons for wanting to achieve our goals are deeper and more meaningful
Five pounds on the scale is just your momentary weight measured in numbers, but often our reasons for wanting to achieve our goals are deeper and more meaningful (Diva Plavalaguna (Pexels))

Secondly, asking yourself "why" digs deeper into your motivations. Five pounds on the scale is just your momentary weight measured in numbers, but often our reasons for wanting to achieve our goals are deeper and more meaningful. What do those five pounds mean to you? Somehow, they reflect who we want to be and how we want to feel. We can establish a stronger connection to our goal by unearthing those more profound reasons. When we feel deeply invested in the outcome, we become motivated to throw our weight behind achieving it. 

Once you've established your "why," there is plenty of work to be still done to reach your goal; nothing ever happens by sheer magic but hard work. At least if you focus on your "why" instead of your "will," you increase your chances of success.

To discover your "why power," first, write down your goal. Then ask yourself, "why is that important?" five times. The first couple of answers will likely be superficial and not as compelling as you need your "why power" to be. However, don't be afraid to dig deep and get vulnerable, and by the time you finish your fifth why you should have one single powerful statement that firms up your resolve. 





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