Health and wellness

How to keep your 2018 New Year’s resolutions: experts’ tips on ways to avoid failure

From breaking your goals down into smaller achievable steps to being aware of what you can do and being honest about your personal limitations, we have you covered when it comes to sticking to your promises

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 December, 2017, 7:06pm

When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions, Cherry Ng likes to keep things simple.

First, the 30-year-old looks over all the goals she wants to accomplish in the coming year. Then she selects just three to commit to.

Finally, she takes specific steps every month to help her achieve her main goal. So, for instance, if her fitness resolution is to run a marathon later in the year, she’ll commit to training three times a week in January, four times a week in February, and so on.

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“Breaking my goals down into smaller, more doable steps, and creating a specific time frame around them is practical. Plus it makes achieving the main goal less daunting,” says Ng. Thanks to this strategy, the Hong Kong-based development associate always manages to see her New Year’s resolutions through.

Not many can say the same. In fact, whether we have a solid strategy for achieving them or not, many of us just don’t bother with resolutions, or we’ll make them and abandon them just days or weeks later. Why do we not hold fast to our well-intentioned plans?

“One of the reasons we find it so hard to keep our resolutions is because fear is often what drives us to make them,” says Dr Cathy Tsang-Feign, a clinical psychologist who practises in Central in Hong Kong. “For example, we might tell ourselves, ‘I have to lose weight next year, otherwise my partner won’t find me attractive any more and leave me’.

“That kind of thinking sets us up for failure because it brings an element of fear to the goal. On the other hand, if you tell yourself that losing weight will allow you to live a healthier life, then you change how you approach your weight-loss goal.

“So it’s important to understand what’s driving you to make a resolution. Instead of feeling fear whenever you think of it, see it as something that is going to make you happier, better, or healthier.”

You should also know for whom you’re making the resolution. Tsang-Feign says that if you set goals merely to please others, you will find it hard to stick to them. “Resolutions are for your own betterment, so you shouldn’t lose weight, quit smoking or start exercising to make your partner happy; you should do those things because you deserve to be healthy,” she explains. “Once you know what you want to accomplish and why, it’s time to address the ‘how’.

Tsang-Feign says that however you choose to achieve your goals, consistency is key. And a good way to ensure that you’ll want to keep doing something again and again is to make that action creative and fun.

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“The more enjoyable it is the more you’ll want to do it, and the more likely you’ll be to stick to it,” she points out. “So don’t punish yourself, and definitely create a plan of action that you’ll find easy to follow. Want to lose weight? Don’t put yourself on a super-strict diet because then you’ll start to feel deprived, and don’t subject yourself to hours upon hours of exercise every day because you’ll just wear yourself out. Start small, go slow, and be consistent. When you start to see results, you’ll feel more encouraged to stick to the plan.”

Start small, go slow, and be consistent. When you start to see results, you’ll feel more encouraged to stick to the plan
Dr Cathy Tsang-Feign

Imagining what your life would be like if you accomplished your goals can also help you stay committed. Tsang-Feign recommends visualising how much better your health, social life, or self-confidence would be if you lost weight, for example. Try to picture yourself wearing trendier clothes and having more energy to do the things you love.

To keep up her progress throughout the year, Ng employs a range of creative strategies. She loves stationery brand Kikki.K for their beautiful notebooks, which she says help her stay organised and productive. She also creates a vision board that is filled with images of what she wants to achieve. Looking at the images daily keeps her motivated and makes her feel that the goal has already been achieved.

Another strategy Ng finds helpful is to associate with people who share her vision.

“If I’m training for a marathon, I might join a running club,” she shares. “Surrounding myself with like-minded people gives me that extra support I need to stick to my resolution.”

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Corie Chu, a personal development coach and founder of Mind Body Soul Asia, a wellness centre located in Kennedy Town in Hong Kong, suggests creating empowering affirmations that you can use daily. In fact, positive self-talk is so important to Chu that she is made it one of the main components of Manifest 2018 – the first official workshop of a three-month programme that she developed to help participants set, and stay on track with, their resolutions for next year.

She explains: “Positive self-talk is crucial. Sometimes, our inner critic gets in the way of our success, creating limiting beliefs that most of us aren’t even aware hold us back. Phrases like ‘I can’t’, ‘I shouldn’t’ and ‘There’s no way’ drive us away from what we desire, so it’s important to ask ourselves where these subconscious thoughts come from before we even make our New Year’s resolutions.

“Taking a deep, realistic look at yourself and doing some self-exploratory work can help you address these self-limiting beliefs, and inspire you to set a conscious intention for what you want to achieve and motivate you to create powerful affirmations to help you move forward. Improving your inner voice is crucial in this regard; you have to be your own personal cheerleader.”

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While it’s important to keep limiting beliefs in check, you should also be aware of your limits – and this is where self-awareness comes in. “The better you know yourself, the more likely you’ll be to set realistic and achievable goals,” says Michael Eason, a psychologist and US-licenced psychotherapist who practises at MindnLife in Hong Kong’s Central district.

“Motivation, perseverance and commitment are, of course, vital when it comes to dedicating oneself to the behavioural and lifestyle changes that often accompany New Year’s resolutions, but being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and being honest with yourself about your personal limitations and circumstances, go a long way towards helping you create goals that are easy to attain. If the resolution is outside the bounds of reality, then it’s sure to fail.”

If you do encounter a setback, don’t beat yourself up over it. Setbacks happen to the best of us and should be expected. In fact, you should look at them as opportunities to see where you went wrong and how to improve.

Ng says that when she experiences a setback, she talks to a friend for support or watches motivational videos on YouTube. These tactics, she says, put her back on the right course.

If you realise that your resolution isn’t working for you in some way, it’s OK to change it, no matter how many months you are into the year.

“This doesn’t translate to failure, it just means you’re being honest with yourself and restructuring your goal in a way that aligns with your new mindset,” says Chu.

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And when you do make progress, remember to celebrate. “If you took action towards your goal for the day, do a victory dance, jump up and down, or sing,” Chu suggests. “It might feel silly but it gets those endorphins flowing and your body will love it. For an extra boost you can treat yourself, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant. You could do something that makes you happy, like cooking a nice meal – or ordering one in.”