In the Guardian last week, Harriet Harman MP confessed that she fully expected to fail to stick to her New Year’s resolutions of drinking less, eating more healthily and doing more exercise. The plus side, she said, was that she could set the exact same resolutions next year: ‘as I won’t have achieved any of them’.
I can scarcely think of a more defeatist way to start the New Year. But statistics back her up – an oft-quoted study from 2008 found that 24 per cent of resolution makers say they fail every year. And while most of us are still going strong at this point in the calendar, almost half of us have fallen by the wayside within six months.
There are many reasons resolutions fail. Sometimes, the resolutions themselves are simply unrealistic (I’m going to knock 15 minutes off my 10k PB) or too woolly (I need to get fit). Other times, as with Harman, it’s more a case of self sabotage, because we’ve already – consciously or subconsciously – decided we won’t succeed. Why? Because we have never succeeded in the past, so we expect to repeat that pattern.
So what were my resolutions? I didn’t make any. Not one! It’s a fallacy to believe that change is only possible at this one time of year. And believing so means that if you fail in the early days, you’ve got a whole year before you can try again. In my opinion, beginning a new regime just off the back of one of the most excessive and indulgent periods of the year is heavily weighted towards failure. You’ve sat around watching TV and eating chocolates and having port for breakfast for a fortnight, and now you’re going to join the gym, give up booze and go on a diet? Good luck with that!
I prefer to use January as a preparation month. If I want to start eating more healthily, I can begin to eat more fruit and veg and clear out all the cupboards and fridge of unhealthy options and start to research some good recipes to use when I start my new eating plan. Similarly, if I want to get fit, I could use January to research what’s on offer locally – I could undergo a few tests (from a body fat assessment to a 12 minute Cooper Test) to see where I am now, and set realistic goals about where I want to get to. Planning is everything – it not only increases your chances of success but it also gives you time to adjust your thinking before the change begins.
For me, January is plan-uary. It’s not until February when I’ll be ringing the changes. And when I do, I’ll be looking back through my training journals to reflect on what went right and wrong last year. A new study from Loughborough University, presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology last week, found that a) keeping a diary of your progress and b) reflecting on what you’ve written, helped maximize the chances of achieving goals successfully. The researchers also found that having a support network – whether it be a running buddy, an online community or your friends and family – aided adherence.
So, Harriet: no more resigning yourself to failure. Get that diary out, set some realistic lifestyle goals and get Andy Burnham – Labour’s best hope for turning the tide on physical inactivity and poor health in the UK – to be your training partner…