We are moving towards the end of the first month of 2024, and research suggests that by the 31st 43% of us will have dropped those New Year's resolutions that we enthusiastically set just a few weeks ago. So what is the problems with the "New Year, New Me" approach, and how can we do better at making sustainable changes, if that's what we seek?
Here at Salt & Light Retreat we both welcome finding a sense of self-acceptance, for where we are at this moment in time, alongside inviting personal growth and development, moving towards our full potential in any aspect of our own being that may bring us fulfillment, peace or lasting joy. It is okay to be who we are; and it is okay to seek to make changes.
Let's begin by looking at three of the big barriers to making those intentions stick; unrealistic goals, a lack of planning, and a failure to build the habit.
When we create unrealistic goals for ourselves, we set ourselves up to fail. Whilst aiming high can be hugely motivational, it can also make it incredibly hard to take that first step forward. We humans can be a tad too optimistic in the short-term, and overestimate our true capacity. This might present as believing we will reach our goal far sooner than is realistic, or strive to go beyond what is truly within our realm of possibility. It is far more helpful to set ourselves SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. An accessible goal that is actually achieved is far greater than an unobtainable goal that lies on the horizon, never to be met. As you can see from the SMART criteria; planning is key to success. Recent research also highlights the importance of taking a flexible approach to our goals, in order to protect our wellbeing; we must continually meet ourselves where we are at. This leads us nicely onto our second barrier...
A lack of planning can be a major factor in the negligence of New Year's resolutions. I am a prime example of those people who optimistically purchase goods for a new project, never to be used because I simply don't commit myself to the activity. It's all very well having a bright idea for positive change in our lives, but if we don't plan for the action that brings the idea to fruition, then it is likely to remain just that; a bright idea. Planning for change enables us to prioritise that specific action, picture it as a reality and feel more motivated to make it happen. Research in this area shows again and again that planning, especially in the form of specific actions and goal-setting, improves our likelihood of creating sustainable behaviour change. Having a clear, strategic and flexible plan that we regularly return to, reflect on, and edit as necessary, enables us to move forward positively, whilst allowing for the challenges that life brings.
The final, and arguably biggest, barrier to sticking out our resolutions is not developing a sustainable habit. People often underestimate the time and effort required to build a new habit. Habits contribute to long-term behaviour change; the routines and patterns that are created by habits form change that is more likely to be maintained. Big changes can feel daunting, and baby steps can seem pointless; but it is those small incremental changes that develop long-term upstanding behaviours. So, rather that deciding to dive in at the deep end with a substantial new behaviour, it is far more useful build that behaviour up over time, beginning with something so easy to kick it off, that it seems insignificant. Continue to build it up by 1% until you reach (or perhaps even surpass!) you goal, with it instilled as part of your lifestyle.
Another useful tool in creating sustainable change is being part of a community that can help to hold you accountable. This is one of the beautifully unexpected bonuses to come out of our regular Moon Gatherings. Every new moon we consider what we want to nourish, change or invest time and energy into, and set intentions. With the full moon we have space to reflect on whether we have moved in the direction we had intended, what has worked well, and what hasn't been so helpful.
Even if you're unable to attend our Gower-based Moon Gatherings; the lunar cycle offers an ideal rhythm to practice this mode of ongoing checking in with ourselves; observing where we are at right now, and noticing where we want to be.
Check out our upcoming Moon Gatherings here, and help your new habits stick.