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Becoming fully committed to your goals instead of using will power

Have you already made your new year resolutions? Or did you decide not to because experience showed that you fail anyhow in maintaining them?

We generally start with good energy, get a fitness club subscription or buy more healthy food, but unfortunately only after a few weeks we find ourselves back in the old habits and routines, lying on the couch instead of going to the gym, spending time on Facebook instead of meditating.  Consequently, we feel guilty because we did not manage to keep our promises to ourselves and this self-blame negatively affects our self-esteem. We do not trust ourselves any longer and maybe therefore we have given up taking any new year's resolutions at all.

Why is this? Running on will power is exhausting. Most of the time it feels like fighting against wind mills. It is as if our mind is fighting against our emotions. There is one voice telling us to not eat the cookie because it ends up on our hips and then there is the other voice telling us that we need it so badly to feel better again.  

According to research, will power is like a muscle. It's a finite resource that depletes with use. As a result, by the end of your strenuous days, your will power muscles are exhausted and you're left to your defenceless self - with no control to stop the night-time munchies and time wasters.

This is why it is important to align your mind with your emotions when setting goals and priorities.

Here are some ideas of how to turn your new years resolutions into a success story. It is important to find your own way as there is no solution that fits everyone.

Check in with your body

You could ask yourself the question: Do you feel totally committed to this new goal or is it rather something you think you should do? Does your whole body want this? Maybe your head has made a decision about a goal, but what do your heart and gut say? Are they aligned or is your head going alone?

It is a good thing to review your current goals from time to time and to adjust direction or to set yourself some new goals for the future. But it should be goals that you can almost give in because they feel right rather than fight against your own internal resistance.

Make it fun

So instead of forcing yourself to go to the gym, check in with yourself: Do I like going to the gym? Is it enjoyable for me? If this is not the case then it is very likely that you will not use your subscription after a month or two. Maybe instead set yourself a goal like "I would like to be physically more active because it is good for my body and mind" and then find something that you truly enjoy or could imagine enjoying. Maybe it is walking, biking or swimming that suits you better than the gym. Wouldn't it be easier and more fun to approach exercise with a sense of joy rather than obligation? Not another thing on your to do list, but something that is and feels good for you.   

In my case, this is how meditation has become a daily habit. It is not another thing on my to-do list, but a precious me-time which I truly enjoy and feel resourced afterwards.

Break it into small chunks

Another important aspect is to check if it is a realistic goal. If you set yourself a goal like "I will meditate every day for 30 minutes" it might be a too big stretch and you will end up frustrated. But if you start with five minutes a day for one month and then increase it to 10 minutes after you have established a routine of doing it, you are more likely to achieve your goal of creating a regular meditation practice and you will become more self-confident about being able to do so. Real change comes from making small, consistent changes and building on your successes. It is like brushing your teeth - you do not see any change after one tooth-brushing, but with consistency there will be a change after some time. Many small steps day after day will bring you towards the goal  that you have established for yourself.

Change small habits

If you are eating the same food, sit at the same desk and drive the same way to work every day, you are less likely to change any habit. It can carve out some new energy and release mental rigidity if you start with some small random habit breakers such as sitting on a new side of the table for breakfast or changing the side of your bed. These are simple things, but they can have a powerful effect because they will force you to see life from a different view point, become more open and curious and thus more mentally flexible. With time after having changed a few small habits you will be able to change other more significant ones.

Create favourable conditions

The will power approach focuses on increasing personal efforts to overcome the current environment. Consequently, the best use of your choices is consciously designing environments that facilitate your commitments. If you're trying to stop drinking alcohol, you should consider stop being around people that drink alcohol or at places that serve alcohol. If you would like to start sporting it makes sense to use a location that is close by your work or home and where you are with like-minded people. If it is about establishing a regular meditation practice it can help to create a nice corner in the house or apartment where you are not disturbed.

Get support

Once you have set yourself a goal, it could be helpful to share it with others. It is important to make it public in order to reinforce your motivation and also to get some external support. Additionally, doing sports or meditating together is much more fun than doing it alone. It can help to only find one person that shares the same interests and motivates you to get going. It has been proven to be effective to be supported by at least one person in establishing a new habit. This is why in our mindfulness courses we set up a system with buddies that support each other along the 8-week journey. Also, if you would like to maintain the good practice doing it in a group of like-minded people can be very supportive. This is why we offer courses and retreats in groups as the group effect can be very motivating and supportive. 

Whatever your goals are for this new year I wish you good luck and consistency in doing so.