Updated: Jan 24
This time of year we are bombarded with the idea of a 'fresh start', from adverts on TV to influencers on social media telling us about how to improve for the new year.
I personally, really enjoy any sense of new start so I embrace this time of year.
But at the same time, the idea of 'new year, new me' becomes slightly toxic when the goals we are setting are not realistic or don't feel authentic to us.
I studied nutritional sciences at University and a huge component of that was learning about behaviour change. I learnt all about why people make the choices they do and what it takes for someone to change their habits for good. The reality is that most of the time, behaviour change takes a long time and cannot be forced just because it's a new year.
A common behaviour change model that people refer to is the stages of change model which includes the following steps:
Pre-contemplation - You haven't thought about changing and are just living your life.
Contemplation - You are starting to see potential benefits of making certain changes
Determination - Your desire to change becomes strong and you are close to taking action.
Action - You start making changes
Relapse - This is super common when people make changes at first. The person may maintain changes for a while but then relapse into old habits.
Maintenance - This is the goal that many of us have. Maintaining new, good habits without needing to over think it too much.
Most people have to go through the stages of change multiple times before they skip the relapse stage and go straight to maintenance. That is NORMAL human behaviour and the process that we all need to go through for lasting change.
The problem is, when some people relapse they feel like a failure which prevents them from trying again. Ultimately, the only way to make lasting change is to accept any failures and get right back up and try again. The more times you decide to change and take action, the stronger change you have of maintaining that change and succeeding with your goals.
So, what is the problem with new years resolutions?
Well, firstly we are jumping a few steps in the process. Most people jump straight into action on new years day. They may start multiple behaviour changes all at once and then wonder why it feels so difficult.
Secondly, the idea of new year changes, is that it is a 'fresh start' to do 'everything right this year.' So what happens when someone inevitably relapses, does that mean the whole year is ruined?
I have no problem with people setting goals at the start of the year because I do too.
My only goal for posting this is that people become more forgiving with themselves when it takes longer for them to change the habit they intended to at the start of the year.
So, set goals for the year but accept that you don't have to be perfect all the way to have achieved that goal at the end of the year.
For more of my thoughts on this topic watch this video: