Four tips on how to make your New Year’s resolutions stick!!

I started gaining weight at around age 27. I never changed my diet, but my metabolism apparently changed, so by that time I turned 28, I had gained 13 Kilos, which is quite a lot for a man of shorter proportions… I knew I was weighing too much, but I just couldn’t get that exorbitant extra weight off, especially since I love eating so much…

And then, 4 years later, I was able to shed not only the 13 Kilos I added, but an additional 2 – and keep that weight off for many years. How did that happen? We’ll get to that later, because the many failures to fulfill my dietary commitment are much more instructive that the actual success.

Why do we fail to adhere to our important resolutions? The answer is quite simple – whenever we try to acquire a new behavior or habit, we go through 4 stages. In the beginning there is Anticipation – we are all excited about the new decision – “This is the year I finally quit smoking / start exercising / lose weight…”, we look forward to our amazing success and great feelings that will surely ensue.

Then, inevitably, comes Regression. We fall back because the change is too hard, too demanding, too systematic and methodical, or quite simply – too different from our regular behavior. Most of us do not survive the regression and we give up. Those who don’t give up but persevere through the regression achieve the last two stages, Breakthrough and Implementation.

So how do we battle through the regression? You can use the following tips:

  1. Circle of control – unlike what we might think, it’s been proven that baby steps goals are much more conducive to implementing new behaviors and forming new habits. Don’t try to reach for the sky in one leap. For example: don’t say you want to read one book every two weeks, say you want to read one chapter every day. Don’t tell your daughter she must tidy her room every day, tell her to take care only of the table and forget about the rest of the room – and then after a month add the night stand and so on. Small goals create an immediate sense of achievement which motivates us to continue with the implementation and hardly feel any regression. Set goals that exist within your circle of control.
  2. Minimal activation energy – people gravitate towards the path of least resistance, or basically, our laziness and lack of desire to step outside our comfort zone usually veers us in the direction of the status quo. Therefore, we must make change as easy as humanly possible to occur. For example: a person decides to eat healthy so he buys some gorgeous apples and puts them in the fridge. As he returns from work he sits down in the living room by the coffee table and thinks about the eating healthy decision… “Getting up to the fridge, washing an apple… tiring… let’s just grab this chocolate bar from the bowl on the coffee table…” – what we should do is buy the apples, wash them immediately and place them in a bowl on the coffee table, so they become default food embedded into our routine. That’s how you minimize the activation energy.
  3. Rituals: routines, rules, rewards – our most natural habits started as rituals we initially resisted. We learned to brush our teeth through a ritual, made as easy and fun as possible by our parents (sweet tasting paste, superheroes on the brush and tube) – and years later we don’t even think of this habit as a break from our routine. By the same token we must create rituals for any resolution we are trying to implement. Rituals are made of routines that are governed by a certain set of rules and should include rewards. For example: I want to create a routine of power-walking for 30 minutes 4-5 times a week for 60 minutes during evenings. I begin by baby stepping this vision into once a week for 45 minutes for the first month. I prepare my walking attire in advance on the bed so I don’t have to choose clothes. Then I create a rule that I must walk after dinner before I get to watch my favorite TV show of that day, and I add a reward – if I keep this decision for the full month (4 walks in total) – I will buy myself a super-cool sports outfit. Remember – rituals become behaviors and help plow through regression, so design routines, rules and reward and make them stick!!
  4. External trigger – find inspiration in whatever you can to strengthen your resolve. It could be someone who doesn’t believe in you, someone who placed a bet against you succeeding, a person whose resolve you admire and want to imitate. For me it was something vain yet effective. I am blessed with a young-looking baby face that usually has people guessing my age wrong and giving me a much younger number that I really am. However, as I gained weight, with each kilo, people began guessing my real age, and that really scared me… my vanity and my desire to look forever young drove me towards a highly motivated diet, based not on health or physique, but rather the deep obsession with looking young… Hey, don’t judge – it worked!!

Try applying these 4 steps to your New Year’s resolutions – and let me know if it helped making them stick!!