Mental health & wellbeing, Startup Advice

How to build the willpower to achieve your 2018 resolutions

Stuart Taylor /

We’ve all heard the saying, “New Year, new me”, and as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Day, many made this vow. With the promise of a prosperous 12 months ahead, many entered the year with a radical plan to overhaul their life. But as common as the New Year’s resolution is, it’s just as common for resolutions to fall by the wayside in a matter of weeks.

No doubt you got off to a great start and kicked some unwanted habits to the curb. But now it’s the start of February and you’re back to work. School holidays are over and life is slowly returning to its normal routine.

You’re becoming busier and busier and stress is creeping its way back in. Keeping up with your newly established ways is hard and you convince yourself that a little leeway won’t do much harm. Before you know it, another New Year is rung in and a new resolution is made. You assure yourself that this time it will be different, and the cycle continues.

Impulse control feeds willpower

Perhaps a lack of willpower is hindering you from achieving your New Year’s resolution. A 2011 study conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that lack of willpower is the most significant barrier to change. Most would agree that it’s easier to give into our impulses for a moment of instant gratification, but it’s important to remember that impulse control is the key ingredient to willpower, which is essential to achieving any long-term goal.

The most impulsive among us will be glad to learn that impulse control can be trained like a muscle. By consistently making decisions that work in favour of your long-term goals over small guilty pleasures, you will grow your willpower and be thanking yourself down the track.

In building willpower, it’s also vital for you to identify the small achievable steps you can take to make your resolution a reality. For instance, if your bigger goal is to build more positive relationships in your life, try starting at putting your phone away during meals with friends or family. Broad, sweeping goals are the ones that tend to fall over and if you find that you’re getting nowhere with your resolution, act quickly to reconsider your commitment and set new, more realistic goals before demotivation kicks in.

Making small, incremental changes to your everyday routine can have a huge impact on your wellbeing and set you up for a productive and happier year ahead.

Think big picture

Rather than focusing on one big life change, focus on the big picture. Having the right motivation allows you to tap into your willpower and harness it to achieve your goal. Evaluate where you want to be and what drives you every day to get there. Take some time to find your purpose, whether that’s a major goal for the year or discovering what drives you in life more generally. Understanding your purpose provides stability, confidence and determination. What’s more, people with purpose and direction find it much easier to bounce back from setbacks and keep moving forward.

As a motivator, try writing a letter to yourself. Put pen to paper and write a letter detailing where you hope to be in six months. When you revisit it half way through the year, you may surprise yourself with what you have been able to achieve in this time and it will motivate you to tackle the second half of the year head on.

Set incremental goals, as a big goal is only accomplished by first achieving a series of small ones. Instead of being overwhelmed with reaching the final destination, it’s far more practical to focus on reaching each small milestone along the way. Psychologists have found that it is more effective to focus on a single clear goal, rather than taking on a list of goals at once.

Create achievable goals

As the saying goes, the closer the target, the easier it is to hit.

For instance, if improving your health is a priority for the year, try first focusing on your sleep, as it’s your brain’s essential tool in making you healthier, happier and more productive. By committing to the same wake up time every day (yes, even on the weekend), you are more likely to achieve good quality sleep which will reduce mental fatigue, boost brain function, increase creativity, reduce irritability and most importantly, improve self-control.

If you have identified an area that requires improvement, take a look at the small things you can change in your daily life that will inch you closer to that larger goal. For example, switch off your TV show to get the sleep you need.

Exercise for enjoyment

I’m sure fitness is at the top of many people’s lists this year. But dragging yourself to the gym is not the hallmark of a physically active person. If you don’t enjoy the gym, try other physical activities, such as regular morning walks with a friend or joining a team sport. When you enjoy exercise, it’s much easier to get into the habit of doing it regularly. Whilst pumping iron isn’t for everyone, there is certainly something out there that is. 

In the spirit of choosing long-term gain over instant gratification, try resisting the urge to hit snooze on your alarm by pulling the doona off to spring you into action for exercise.

Enjoy the little things

It’s important to enjoy the little things in life, as they tend to affect your perspective on the big things.

Don’t let digital rule you. Our world might be changing, but the true nature of life is not and it’s more than likely happening right in front of you. Disconnecting from technology every once in a while, is important for stillness, personal reflection and human connection.

Connect with friends and family in meaningful ways. For example, catch a movie with a friend or sit down for a meal with your family. This will encourage mutual relationship, respect and investment in each other’s lives. Maintaining healthy and emotionally stimulating relationships with people benefits your health, happiness and productivity.

Weaving these small, practical changes into your daily routine, rather than trying to overhaul your entire life overnight, will put you on track to being a far more resilient, happy and prosperous individual in 2018.

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Stuart Taylor

Stuart Taylor is a speaker, facilitator, executive coach and the founder of Springfox.

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