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Hit or miss? Why many of our New Year resolutions fail

 New Year resolutions. (Courtesy)

It is New Year's, and with it comes a new you. Your resolutions are in hand, and you are ready to transform yourself and conquer the world. Or not, because you have been here before and broke all the resolutions within a week of making them, at most.

You are not alone, as most New Year's resolutions, and other attempts to develop new habits, fail. Studies show the failure rate of resolutions to be between 81 and 92 per cent. Why is this failure rate so high and should you bother making them then?

The problem begins with understanding what with solutions are. "We need to understand what resolutions are because what people make are wishes, not resolutions. Because 'to resolve' means that it is a must. It is not a negotiation; it does not depend on whether things go south or go your way. 'This is who I decide to be'," says Jeff Israel Nthiwa, life coach and founder of Destiny Life Coaching.

One of the biggest reasons resolutions fail is because people try to change everything all at once, according to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. Reading that book first should probably be the first thing on everyone's new year's resolutions list, as Clear offers practical ways of changing habits and making them long-term.

"The consensus among change researchers is that you should focus on changing a very small number of habits at the same time," writes Clear.

Resolution-making and changing habits should be done with a completely different approach from what most people do. Clear advises tackling one very tiny bit at a time. Essentially, choose one thing on the list, focus on changing that one only, and break it down, by, as he says, making it so easy you can't say no. And then when that one habit becomes second nature, you can move on to the next one.

"Want to do 50 pushups per day? Start with something easy like 5 or 10. Wish you would read more books. Start by reading two pages every night. Want to finally start meditating? Meditate for one minute each morning. After a month, you can move up to two minutes," writes Clear.

It is also best to start with a keystone habit, which means that it will have ripple effects on other areas of your life. Clear defines a keystone habit as a behaviour or routine that naturally pulls the rest of your life in line.

"For example, weightlifting is my keystone habit. If I get to the gym, then it creates a ripple effect in other areas of my life. Not only do I get the benefits of working out, I enjoy a wide range but I also have secondary benefits. I focus better after the workout. I tend to eat better when I am working out consistently. I sleep better at night and wake up with more energy in the morning," he writes.

His other recommendations are to focus on the behaviour, not the outcome, and to build an environment that promotes good habits. According to Clear, small changes add up, so becoming one per cent better every day will have a massive impact over time.

"Nearly every habit you have today, good or bad, is the result of many small choices made over time. It is the repeated pattern of small behaviours that leads to significant results. Each day we make the choice to become one per cent better or one per cent worse, but so often the choices are small enough that we miss them," he writes.

Despite having failed in the past, it is important to try again and try differently. Nthiwa says that the advantage of making resolutions and achieving them that is that it redefines who you are.

"Our identity is reflected by what we are capable of, so if you can set a standard and reach it then you begin to believe self when you can see the result. The challenge here is that when we make resolutions, most of the time we don't get what we set. So people have less and less belief in themselves so most people no longer set resolutions," he says.

Life coach Samuel Murage, CEO & Founder of DTI Group, says that making new year's resolutions in itself, in the right way, acts as a trigger for forming new, positive habits, as it gives clarity for the year because it makes you intentional on what you want to achieve.

"It gives you a sense of direction, and helps in time management," he says. "It also creates the power to make us grow and develop our professional, business or personal success and increases our motivation and the right positive energy throughout the year."

Murage adds that resolutions are good for our mental health. "Most people end up mentally ill due to stagnancy in life. Accomplishing goals raises our self-confidence and self-worth. In addition, we become more self-aware about our strength, we focus more and that brings fulfilment in our lives," he says.

His tips on how to keep the resolutions are to first of all understand your real purpose for the resolutions. "Until you find out your 'why', you won't have the right motivation to achieve your goal," he says.

He advises that not only should you set resolutions, but you should also develop an action plan.

"How do you get to where you want to go? Come up with a plan of action, which is the steps towards achieving your goals. Keep on reviewing your progress. If the plan isn't working, don't change the goal, change the plan," says Murage.

You also need to determine the right strategies you can apply to achieve these goals.

"There are different strategies, such as the Rule of 5. This means that you should find your goal in life, identify your tool that can help achieve your goal and use it five times every day!" he says.

Murage adds that you should pat yourself on the back when you achieve small milestones on your list, something that Clear also advocates.

"Celebrate personal victories because no one else understands what it took to accomplish," says Murage.

Both Nthiwa and Murage recommend having an accountability partner to help you achieve the goal, which Murage says can be your mentor, a spouse, a sibling or a close friend.

Nthiwa, however, suggests another different approach, which is making 10-year goals rather than one-year ones.

"My advice is to let every year be a reminder of your 10-year goals. Do not make one-year goals, because we overestimate what we can do in one year but we underestimate what we can do in ten years. Most people can't tell you what they will do in ten years because they have not thought about it, but if you can think of it in ten years then the one-year can become a review of your 10-year goals," he says.

The bottom line is that you have to slowly change who you are and how you do things, to become the kind of person who can achieve the things you want to achieve. "It is not even about getting this thing, it is about the person you become. Focus on you," says Nthiwa.

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