New Year, new resolutions? Or maybe New Year, same old resolutions?
Nearly 60 % of people make New Year’s resolutions. So why is it that a month after New Year, more than 40% of those who made such resolutions, have already given up on them?
There are two major mistakes people make, that prevent them from following through on their New Year’s resolutions: (1) draining themselves, and (2) not knowing when to stop taking a break. These same two mistakes are also responsible for other plans never being achieved, or for plans being postponed way too long. And the very same two mistakes are responsible for visions that stay dreams and never turn into reality, and for the biggest regret people dying on their deathbed have, being the things they did NOT do.
With the knowledge in this post, you can be different: you can reach your goals if you implement what you learn here. You can make those New Year’s resolutions work for you. You can make your plans into actions, your visions into reality, and the day you are on your deathbed you can be proud you have no regrets over missed opportunities.
MISTAKE Nº1: Depleting the Willpower Batteries
The single biggest mistake people make whenever they have a new plan is to bite off more than they can chew.
Undoubtedly you have seen or heard success stories of others battling through their own resistance, their own reluctance, their own physical and mental limits, and how doing so they achieved a form of success that inspires (or creates envy). Who has never heard of the fitness and bodybuilding motto: “no pain, no gain”? And in all likelihood, you have been indoctrinated by your culture’s beliefs that only hard work pays off.
While these beliefs can be very helpful to improve your status quo, and they are not inherently or completely wrong, the problem arises when you implement this attitude without taking time to refill your willpower batteries.
And/or without gradually and strategically building up your battery’s capacity.
Foregoing taking the time to recharge, as well as foregoing a gradual build-up of your willpower, you are guaranteed to reach a point where you feel absolutely drained, demotivated, and where the only energy you have left is to demotivate yourself from pursuing your original goal, or where you make excuses to postpone it, sometimes indefinitely.
Here are some tips for ‘battery’ usage:
– Shut down any apps running in the background in your brain that consume ‘battery power’
⇒ Break the rules
To be told you are not permitted something, either by someone else, and definitely by yourself, consumes a lot of willpower. E.g., in one experiment by Roy Baumeister students who were forbidden to eat freshly baked cookies would give up twice as fast on a difficult maths task as compared to students who were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Lesson? Forbidding yourself a lot of minor insignificant things right before you need to use willpower, may make you more prone to lack the willpower to persist in the face of difficulty. So, when you have something coming up: indulge. Forget about the rules!
⇒ Reduce Decision Fatigue
Decision fatigue is one way to deplete your mental power, or what psychologists call cognitive resources. During his presidency, Obama purposely reduced any need for making decisions for minor, daily matters, such as what to wear or what to eat.
So how do you take any lesson home from this to reduce decision fatigue in yourself? Just remind yourself of this presidential approach! Start by making a list of all the regularly recurring things in your life.
This doesn’t have to mean you have to have a closet full of identical clothes like Obama. You can wear different clothes every day without draining yourself. How? Make a habit out of making all your minor decisions every evening (decisions on what to wear the next day, what to eat the next day, how to structure your tasks for the next day), not long before you go to bed and when you have no more major decisions to make that day.
⇒ write down task lists
Keeping a mental note of what you have to do, even of that thing you are eternally postponing, costs you mental energy you could use for more important things. Instead, write everything down
⇒ do one thing at a time
Do you know that guy or girl who has a thousand plans, but always ends up doing nothing? Better that that person is someone else, rather than you! How? Focus on one thing at a time until it is finished. Then move on to the next thing on your list.
⇒ reduce sugar, caffeine and nicotine intake to a minimum
While all of these give you a temporary boost and make you feel good and alive while or shortly after consuming them, the effects wear off rather soon, and the peak is always followed by a slump in your energy levels which is below the baseline you started off with.
⇒ take notes and learn smart
Every day you consume new information that you cannot possibly remember just by being passively exposed to it once, yet your brain tries to. This consumes energy. If you learn something new, just take a note of it, write something on your blog about it, tell someone else, link it to your previous experience, visualise yourself implementing it in the near future, or implement it right away. All this empties space in your head while at the same time expanding your understanding of the world and your skillset.
– Recharge your ‘batteries’ in time and extend battery life
⇒ take regular breaks
Your brain can only stay focused for approximately 20 minutes to 25 minutes at a time. When you continue beyond that, your mind starts to drift off on the information it is processing and parts of new information doesn’t get absorbed.
⇒ destress regularly
While meditation has become a trending solution to stress, it definitely is not the only way to get stress out of your system. Stress can be helpful in that it urges you to find solutions and move forward. However, it is draining mental resources and to battle that drainage, there are many ways. Many of these ways are referred to as ‘hobbies’ or ‘leisure activities’. Any activity that puts your mind off your regular train of thoughts, whether it is walking, jogging, yoga, dance, martial arts, knitting, drawing, painting or baking cookies: if it helps you, make sure to do it regularly. Of course you can alternate between different things if you have varied interests, but be sure to make time for something relaxing every day other than brainlessly sinking away in front of Facebook, the tv, endless YouTube consumption, or tv series marathons.
⇒ get enough sleep
Sleep medicine does help to fall and stay asleep, but messes with your sleep cycles and reduces Rapid Eye Movement sleep, during which memories are consolidated. Therefore, avoid sleeping pills if possible. If necessary use sleep hypnosis. If you have trouble going to bed in time, get into the habit of going to bed the same time every day. Set your alarm for going to bed! Once it goes off, drop all tasks you are working on, and do your pre-sleep ritual: making all the minor decisions for the next day, turning off your phone and internet, brushing your teeth, emptying your bladder, gratefulness exercise and/or visualisation exercise while in bed.
⇒ get enough water in your body
Staying hydrated helps you to stay focused. It is good to combine the new habit of taking a short break every 25 minutes to go get a cup of water and drink it empty during that short break.
⇒ get enough nutrients
Everyone loves indulging in some guilty pleasures sometimes: nothing to beat yourself up over. Just make sure to give your body all the nutrients it needs.
⇒ avoid overheating to extend battery life!
Ambient air temperature is an often overlooked but important drainer of energy. Some like to avoid getting cold by opening up the heating in the car, the office or the house to a level that feels ‘comfortable’. But ‘comfortable’ air temperatures are usually temperatures that are relaxing to the extent they are slightly drowsing and make you into someone who is sleeping while awake. Sometimes you really have to battle to stay awake because of the temperature.
The solution? If you feel cold, it’s better to wear a little more without changing the air temperature too much: this way you avoid feeling cold and avoid getting too drowsy because of warmth at the same time.
⇒ allow for proper air circulation
How often have you noticed offices and other people’s houses that have a dull air upon entering? These places have been poorly aired and that affects productivity of people spending their time in there. While architects try to take this into account by building in air circulation systems or air conditioning, these ‘solutions’ create artificial air conditions where the air is extremely dry or not genuinely of good quality.
On a grander scale, note that China and India have the most cities with extreme air pollution, extremely large populations, yet have a relatively low ratio of extremely successful athletes, high ranked universities, or other signs of extreme success in other areas as compared to their population sizes, and as compared to countries where pollution is lower. While air is not the only factor, in my belief poor air quality definitely contributes to suboptimal performance of these countries as compared to what they would be capable of achieving in other circumstances.
But back to a small scale, personal level: you can do any of the following for yourself for better air.
If you are in an office where you cannot open the windows, or when you are in a country where it is too cold outside, get yourself an air ionizer. Let the sun get in: this also ionizes the air.
Get a plant or several plants (they will not deprive you of oxygen while you sleep: just consider them like another person in your room consuming some oxygen when it is dark).
And get an air humidifier if your office or living space has especially dry air.
– Get an extra battery pack, or extend your battery’s capacity
⇒ regularly use your batteries!
If you don’t use your willpower battery often, it will start leaking. While we have outlined ways to save your willpower energy so you can have enough to handle with more pressing tasks, this does not mean we advocate that you should always be aimed at saving up your willpower energy. Stress, if not chronic, has it’s merits, and strategically increasing your workload stepwise and gradually expands your willpower capacity, and eventually it takes longer to drain you.
How to go about it?
* Implement “30 day challenges”: for anything new you have to do or master, and you want badly enough, give yourself 30 days. This is long enough to get the feeling you accomplished something, but short enough to seem manageable. (E.g., cut out sugar in 30 days, write a novel in 30 days, …) Do it often enough, follow through, and it will boost your morale, motivation and confidence that you can achieve anything.
* drain yourself a little each day: put chocolate in your mouth and leave it there to melt, then spit it out instead of swallowing. Put something healthy, but which disgusts you in your mouth and eat it. Have cold showers. These are examples of things you can do that requires willpower. If you do this regularly, you gain the confidence that you have more willpower than Joe average and more than you used to have.
MISTAKE Nº2: Endlessly Recharging the Willpower Batteries
The second mistake is more of an important notice, an addendum of some sort to the tips given above.
It is definitely good to take a break sometimes, but when you get stuck in endless clicking of the next YouTube video in your video suggestion list, on endless scrolling down of your social media feed, on evenings where all you do is watch series or movies and get nothing productive out of your life for yourself, you are taking too much of a break.
In that case, pay heed to the following tricks:
– Reduce distractions to a minimum
When you have to get something done on your laptop, and your email inbox, YouTube, Facebook, Quora, online games, porn, and other distractions are all just one click away, and your phone with WhatsApp, Tinder and more games on it is just within reach, temptation WILL kick in when your willpower battery is running low. And your battery WILL run low at multiple points during the day. To help against this, there are special apps on the phone as well as for the computer that limit the total time you can spend on certain websites per 24 hours, or that prohibit access at certain times of the day. Do use these!
– Put a measurable limit to the time spent on each break
As mentioned earlier, our attention span works for about 20 to 25 minutes. After each such interval, take a five minute break and nothing longer. Use the Pomodoro technique. Free app for the phone, with a tone going off every 25 minutes, and at the end of each brake is available for free download.
– Have deadlines
How deadlines help avoid procrastination is discussed in another post on this blog. Important to know when using deadlines: externally imposed deadlines (for thesis, for tax returns, or whatever) are more efficient than self-imposed deadlines. Should you not have any externally imposed deadlines, and be limited to self-imposed deadlines, it is best to break your task in smaller steps with each and every individual step having its own deadline.
Try to make a habit of all of the above tricks!
– To develop a new habit
Things which are good for you, but which feel exhausting or require effort, often require you to push yourself through in the initial phase. Instead of pushing yourself on and off over a lifetime to get yourself to do what is good for you (going to the gym, minding your food), develop good habits. Habits are automatic: effort gets out of the equation. Develop habits by applying the following three ways:
√ Follow through for just 66 days!
66 days is the time it takes for something to become a habit.
√ Make the good 2o seconds easier, and the bad 20 seconds harder!
To make sure a good new habit can be formed, and an old one can cease, put everything so so it costs you 20 seconds less effort to get started on a good habit (put your gym clothes ready beforehand), and it costs you 20 seconds more to continue with a bad habit (put the chocolate out of sight). In other words, make sure it takes less effort to start the new habit, and more effort to continue the old.
√ Reward yourself
If you do something that you are relatively sure will be good for you in the long run, often motivation lacks only because rewards in the short term are missing. Nothing stops you from creating a reward system to condition yourself for whatever you want to become a new habit, to be associated with an immediate good feeling. This makes it easier to form a good habit.
Just remember: you can do it!
- Statistics on New Year’s resolutions:
- Obama on decision fatigue:
- training willpower: