Do you know how many New Year’s resolutions people succeed at keeping? Practically none. A whopping 8 percent follow through, but we don’t actually know that they stick to their resolutions throughout the year.
But chances are, most of us need to create positive new habits in some area of our life.
I’ve never been a believer in resolutions. I always feel that you should not put off something you can do today for some random day in the future. That said, some people put a lot of weight into the first day of the year.
So anyway, what do you think the reason is that we do not keep our New Year’s resolutions?
Two reasons, the main one being our self-defeating stories, and the other, breaking habits that we’ve held for years. One of my favorite books on this topic is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. He will show you how you can transform your life and community, all by changing your habits. It’s a great read and was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 60 weeks!
Next, let’s look at some of what Isaiah Hankel has to say on the power of our self-stories. He’s an expert on cognitive behavior, and just released his new book, The Science of Intelligent Achievement: How Smart People Focus, Create and Grow Their Way to Success (Capstone 2018). One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Hankel is this: “In order to change your big story, you have to change the little stories.”
Do you ever listen to those little thoughts that float through your head? They turn out to be huge when it comes to creating your bigger life story. Have you ever heard yourself say any of these?
I’ll skip the gym today, what good is exercising once a week anyway?
I’ll never be thin because I’ve been overweight for 16 years.
It’s more important that I’m available for my family now, I’ll concentrate on me later.
I hate myself/I hate my body/I’m so stupid.
All of these self-stories keep the door open for your future failure. This is one reason why every year you proclaim the same exact resolution, and you fail. Telling yourself disempowering stories will guarantee your failure. You convince yourself that any change you make today will not make one iota of difference.
By telling yourself these negative stories, you give yourself the freedom to abuse yourself, remain in toxic relationships, eat fattening food and keep drinking or smoking. Why should you bother, you always fail anyway, don’t you?
See what I mean? If you refuse to change those stories, then I suggest you NOT make any resolutions for 2018 because you’re destined for failure, and you will feel even worse about yourself.
But if you’re ready and willing to dispense with the negative thinking, and forgive your past failures, then let January 1st be your day for change! Two years ago, I decided I’d declutter my home a little bit more. I like things neat and organized. If you too want to organize your home, read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
The stories you tell yourself moving forward will become your new habit of thinking. The stories you hear (even the stories you tell yourself) are KEY to breaking habits. Scientists have studied storytelling from a brain wave perspective, and they’ve proven that your brain literally lights up whenever someone tells you (or reads aloud) a story full of powerful details and descriptions. This (in addition to their convenience) might be why Audible books are so popular. We also know how important it is for children to be read to.
As Isaiah Hankel notes: “Imaging studies have shown that only a small, quarter sized region of your brain lights up when someone tells you a series of facts [or a story]. However, when someone tells you a story laced with those facts, or those facts in action, your entire brain lights up…Princeton University found that when two people communicate by one telling the other a story, neural activity over wide regions of their brains become almost synchronous, with the listener’s brain activity patterns mirroring the patterns sweeping through the speaker’s brain.
A powerful storytelling technique psychologists use is called Narrative Therapy. Narrative Therapy proceeds from the theory that all individuals shape their lives with stories. A good therapist will prompt questions that allow you to think of positive stories, to replace the negative ones. This will (over time) improve self-confidence by giving a person happier, more empowering stories to think about. I’ve seen this work sometimes, but not always. The sad reality is that some people are inherently pessimistic, and there’s no resolution to fix that. I’ve never seen a pessimist become an optimist, but I still have hope! Nevertheless, anyone can start telling stories that are more positive. This reminds me once of a time I tripped and fell over. It wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t hurt myself. I immediately got up and brushed myself off, and laughed “I’m so lucky I didn’t break anything, wow that was close!” And Sam said to me, “but you’re limping and bleeding a little and you’re still happy?” I said, “Heck yeah, this could’ve been much worse! I’m fine really.” And I was truly happy inside. It could have been much worse. This reflexive thinking is in our DNA, and it’s also acquired to some extent. My brain automatically finds the positive, no matter what.
People who suffer with PTSD or have other powerful psychological disorders which include negative self-talk (like anorexia and major depressive disorder), have to work extra hard to re-write the stories in their brain so that they are more positive. Instead of thinking, “What could I have done differently to make this situation different?”, the thought needs to be more along the lines of, “This is an old story, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again and I’m safe.” For example, women who have been cheated on constantly live in fear of that happening again. Men who have been involved with an emotionally abusive woman also have to re-learn to trust.
Can you do that with a New Year’s resolution? Sure, if the first of the new year is the day you’ve designated to make a change in your life, then stick to it. Reframe those negative stories and start telling yourself better ones.
You can always feel more intelligent, attractive, wealthy or svelte. You can always take action to move towards a better you, for example, get a new hairstyle or hair color, lose weight if you need, and start to see your beautiful attributes instead of your flaws. Remember, no one is perfect. If they are, they’ve been photoshopped!
You can be who you are and let those who love the real you gravitate to you. You do not have to be (or do) anything that isn’t authentic to who you really are. Don’t take me literally, because if you smoke or eat junk food or have other unhealthy habits, then I highly recommend you stop those! But for most people, their resolutions are doable, they just give up too fast, because they don’t truly want to accomplish their goals. It’s honestly not that hard, you simply make a choice to stop, then you take some kind of action to do it properly, like wean off cigarettes for example, don’t stop suddenly. If you want to stop eating so many cookies and doughnuts, then do it. There’s nothing to stop you but yourself.
Habits are Automatic and Can Be Reprogrammed
Wendy Woods, habits specialist and psychology professor, has found via research that 45% of our habits are habitual. We perform them without the slightest bit of thought. So although we may think we are constantly making the wrong decisions—ones that harm our health, for example, we really are just remotely performing behaviors we established a long time ago, from being disorganized and even lazy, all the way to being compulsively organized and controlling. These are not just habits, they are engrained deep in our very core and hard to change, unless we truly want to. I personally believe anyone can change these habits if they really want to deep down inside.
The good news is that we can just as easily rewire our brain accustomed to a new habit and for a good habit to become our habitual habit.
As virtually all of the habit specialists I’ve learned from, like Tony Robbins and Wendy Woods, I will tell you that we don’t actually overcome, or break a bad habit. We merely REPLACE it with another one. And amazingly enough, those new, healthy habits become ingrained in our behavior much more quickly than you might think. It takes about 3 weeks or so to replace one habit with another one so don’t give up too quickly. Good habits are contagious.
The pride you feel about building one new habit tends to make you yearn for bigger feelings of accomplishment. If you’re not ready to create a new year’s resolution, then at least do this for 2018. Sit down and write a list of the negative thoughts that you personally play over and over in your mind. Be ruthless. Think of ALL of them. Write them down on a sheet of paper or type it out and then print this list. Vow to never say these words again and burn them. Literally, set it aflame and turn them to ash. Then have some friends over and create a vision board using pictures of all the good things in your life. This is the best time of year for a vision board. It’s fun and it will set into motion all the good things that you want in your life. Then watch them manifest. It’s fun to see your dreams come true … and that can only happen if you actually believe that your dreams can come true.
Cheers to a happy, healthy 2018!