As we launch into 2018 my social media feeds are full of memes, quotes and blogs telling me that people are ready to slay 2018, claim all that’s coming to them, start a new chapter and have an adventure. Not only are they going to do it but they are exhorting me to do it too. If I’m not ready to reach a higher vibration, become my best self, hack my life or follow my calling, what will I be bringing to the table? Inspiring, yes, but I wonder how many of these declarations will be born to fruition by year’s end. I saw the same memes and quotes at the start of 2017, indeed I shared some of them. Here I am though, the same dress size, with mostly the same habits as in January last year. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Unfortunately many of us find that making lasting changes to one’s life is not as easy as painting on a glossy veneer of determination as the clock strikes midnight on 1st January. If you find yourself repeatedly failing to achieve your goals or hold to your stated objectives it’s probably a good time to take a look at why. Here are some suggestions that might help us all make 2018 a year of genuine and successful change (for really reals).
- Do It For You
Firstly, why do you want to change? Is it because you want to feel happier, more at peace, more confident, healthier? Is it because you want to achieve a certain goal, acquire a certain skill, overcome an obstacle that’s preventing you from moving forward in your life? Do you want to change for your sake or to please someone else, or because you feel you “should”? If the impetus for change is coming from outside of you that will create pressure and any slip or failure will create guilt. Guilt generates negative emotions, leading to a much higher chance of self-sabotage and giving up. For example if your partner is pressuring you to lose weight or get fit, or your friends have roped you into “Dry January” and you aren’t 100% convinced and committed then you’re far more likely to fail simply because the motivation didn’t come from you. Change needs to be something you do for you because you really want it. Change is your gift to yourself.
- Identify Your Real Goal
You may be surprised to find that perhaps the reason you are failing to achieve lasting change is because you don’t really want to succeed. I know, sounds crazy, right? You’re all psyched up, you’ve been talking about it for months, maybe even trying for years.
Just consider the possibility that the reason why you can’t keep to a fitness plan or a healthy eating regime is that as much as you want to lose weight, you don’t want to have to exercise and watch what you eat. Maybe you’re so focused on the goal of getting fit that you’ve forgotten you’re supposed to enjoy the process! Why not go a little crazy and try something new: belly dancing, Lindy Hop, roller disco, ice skating, paintball, hiking, coaching the local kids’ sports team: there are all sorts of activities that you could do that are fun and can keep you fit. Maybe it’s not even fitness and weight loss that you’re actually after. Maybe what you really want is to feel more confident and like who you see when you look in the mirror. Why not try learning a new skill or taking up an old hobby you haven’t practised for a while? Take an art class, join a creative writing group, take a course on public speaking, buy some classically tailored clothes, treat yourself to a professional make-up session; there a many ways to improve your self-image and confidence. While I’m using the example of fitness and weight loss, the principle applies to any goal you’ve set yourself. If you find that you fail again and again then perhaps subconsciously you know it’s not the right thing for you. Examine if there’s another way to achieve what you want.
- Start Now and Face the Fear
It seems obvious but you have to start when you’re mentally ready and you have to actually start. If you find yourself constantly pushing the launch date back until the start of next week, New Year’s Day, when the weather’s better, when you have more time, when you’re not so tired, when the kids are older, when you feel more confident then perhaps you don’t really want to do it at all. If you start but you find yourself constantly thrown off track and quitting then ask yourself if you’re truly ready to handle the consequences of making a change to your life. Perhaps you don’t believe you can succeed or that secretly you don’t deserve to. It’s a lot easier on the ego to forever remain the great, undiscovered author than face the pain of finding out that nobody likes your work.
- Can You Even?
Making significant changes to your life alters your sense of identity. If you’re a couch potato and suddenly you become a gym rat, that’s going to alter your image of yourself as a lazy slob. Months of swapping pizzas for pittas and chocolate for chia creates a new you in your mind as well as in the mirror as you reframe yourself as a health-conscious person. This should be good news but what if you’re beginning to attract positive attention and invitations from admirers and you’re not ready for that attention? What if you still see yourself as unattractive or unworthy? What if you were brought up to believe admiring yourself was vanity? How would approving of your new body rather than disliking it challenge your values? What if your boss is pushing you to put in for that promotion and even though you know you’re qualified you don’t believe you are old enough or experienced enough or have enough authority to do the job? What if you were raised to be humble and self-deprecating or were taught that ambition was crass and greedy? The roots to your persistent failure despite all your best efforts may lie in the conflict between your present desires and your deepest values and self-image.
- Make it Real and Accept You Will Fail (a bit, every now and then)
Are you sensitive to life’s ups and downs, your energy and motivation heavily influenced by how you feel? I know I am. In addition, I’m an ideas person who tends to jump from project to project as I either become bored, discouraged or fascinated with something else. While this makes me creative and unafraid to try new things, it makes me dreadful for actually producing the goods on time or at all. If you are like me then when you commit to your goal you must make it real to you beyond a cool idea; visualise each step required and ensure you understand what that means to you. Accept that there will be setbacks, even failures. Failure is part of the process, not a comment on you or your abilities. Sometimes unavoidable and unforeseen events happen and that’s just life.
If you find it difficult to sustain self belief or motivation for your projects then take a moment to write down all the reasons why you started; how you felt, what you wanted to change, and how success will feel. Remind yourself of the skills and experience and personal qualities that make you qualified to do what you are doing. Remember the times you have succeeded in the past. It is also very helpful to find yourself an accountability partner who can hold you to your intentions and encourage you in moments of doubt. Pick someone who will be firm and not fall for your BS when you try to talk your way round your slipping deadlines. If you have no-one to support you then invent someone. Seriously – invent your own cheering section. Your mind cannot detect the difference between how an imagined situation feels and a real one, that’s why we suffer from phobias, so imagine someone telling you how awesome you are and take your encouragement from that. Try it! What have you got to lose?
- Be Realistic and Chill Out!
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Habits are formed over time, neural pathways are created through repetition; muscle memory is formed, emotional triggers are created. Our lives are the sum total of our past actions and thoughts. Creating new lives or new aspects to our lives requires new thoughts and new actions and we must form new habits. When I go back to the gym I will have to make the time, sustain energy and motivation, and plan and prepare healthy meals. I will need to be mentally prepared to be organised and to not always feel motivated. Also, I will have to balance my fitness with my blogging. Blogging is time consuming; on average it takes me approximately six to eight hours to produce a blog post – an entire working day. If I produce a post for each blog that’s two days out of the week, in addition to restarting my fitness regime and keeping house and raising a child and working on an idea I have for a book. (For details of my adventures in parenting an autistic child, check out my other blog here). I’m asking a lot of myself and it’s very possible that some weeks things are going to slip. I’m probably going to end up eating junk food and missing a gym class now and then. I’m going to get ill and be tired. Sometimes I’ll have nothing to write about or feel too low to produce anything meaningful. That’s all okay, so long as I hold to the long-term vision: perfection is not possible but perseverance is. Be patient with yourself, accept that you won’t always meet your own expectations and be realistic about what you can do in the time you have, the circumstances you are in and with the energy that you have.
- Make The Change Within
Doing stuff costs money; that’s not news to anyone I’m sure. Taking classes, learning to drive, joining a gym, even attending social events has a cost implication. Working or caring for dependants eats into your energy and available time for leisure activities. You may face practical obstacles such as lack of access to transport, shops or public amenities. Your health may affect your mobility or flexibility. You may not have emotional or practical support from friends or family. There are many factors that could pose a challenge to your goals. If you find that you are consistently unable to achieve success you may need to look at whether your goal is actually achievable and if there is a more practical alternative that could still give you a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. If there isn’t, if you discover that what you are reaching for is impossible then make accepting that truth your goal. What if your objective for this year was to accept that your circumstances don’t allow you to change and to learn to love yourself as you are? If you’ve been spending years feeling like a failure for not changing, how awesome would it be to finally find peace with yourself? What if you spent the year discovering what your values are, working on how you relate to other people and yourself, dealing with any hang ups and hurts from the past that are affecting who you are and how you view your life now? How would that change the quality of your life and potentially improve your future? Working on these fundamentals could be the key to a whole new life. If you can’t affect the external, go deep within. There are countless podcasts and YouTube videos that you can access for free as well as blogs aplenty, including this one. Make 2018 the year of You.
I hope you find these suggestions useful. I’ll be putting them into practice myself as I embark on a year of becoming more organised, more consistent in my efforts, more forgiving of my failures and more patient with the process. I look forward to finding out what we can achieve together this year. I’d love to hear from you – what you’re looking to change this year, any goals you’ve set and how it’s going. Good luck and remember, you have nothing to lose but feeling like a loser!