Why setting a goal is more doable than new year's resolutions...

There is only one resolution to make - and that is to always stick to achievable goals and break them down into doable tasks, says Colette Sheridan
Why setting a goal is more doable than new year's resolutions...

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: Colette Sheridan gave up drinking and smoking - but not as new year resolutions.

BY now, I should be emaciated and the author of several novels, as well as hyper-fit, given my New Year’s resolutions over the years.

Yes, there is something about January that makes fools of most of us, as we declare how we’re going to improve, despite the glaring reality that we will reliably fall back on our bad/unhealthy habits quicker than you can turn off the lights on your Christmas tree.

It is said that 80% of resolutions are abandoned by February.

February? More like January 3.

Suckers for the wish to self-improve, we are, however, creatures of habit. And if that involves guzzling chocolate in front of the TV at night, it’s mighty hard to substitute the sugar for a stick of carrot.

I would like to cut down on sugar, but nibbling raw veggies instead doesn’t appeal.

However, on the plus side, there is nothing else for me to give up (apart from bread). I no longer smoke or drink.

I didn’t quit these addictions in a great spirit of New Year’s resolve. I gave up drink at the end of January nearly 15 years ago and the fags gave up on me when I was hospitalised after an accident and woke up after being conked out for two days. I realised I was tobacco-free and had no cravings.

Going against my cantankerous nature, I didn’t insist on being brought down in a wheelchair to the outside of CUH so that I could light up. Instead, I decided I had inadvertently stopped smoking.

I had been a guilty smoker for years and the pariah-like status of smokers was beginning to get me down. Every now and then, when I see someone lighting up, inhaling and exhaling a long plume of smoke outdoors, I get a mild craving, but then I remind myself of the tyranny of fags.

If I hadn’t broken two vertebrae in my back, I’d probably still be a spluttering apologetic smoker.

Giving up stuff is inherently difficult. For those of us who have used cigarettes and alcohol as rewards at the end of a day (or, let’s face it, whenever we damn well fancied these drugs), it’s hard to do without them.

Any behaviour that provides a reward leads to a pleasing surge in the brain’s neurotransmitter, dopamine, which makes us want to repeat the activity. It’s why we find it virtually impossible to put away that bar of chocolate after just two squares.

The word ‘moreish’ was invented to describe stuff that we want to endlessly consume.

So what is the solution to our desire (but lack of backbone) to foreswear our noxious habits?

Firstly, you need to realise that resolutions are psychologically unrealistic and are too “global and vague to be turned into motivated action,” according to Prudy Gourguechon, an American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.

“A resolution is something whose main function is to punish yourself. It’s essentially not doable.”

Goals work better than resolutions. You should set an achievable goal and then break down the tasks needed to get there into bits that you can actually complete in a finite amount of time.

‘Start a blog’ isn’t doable, points out Gourguechon. ‘Write five blog posts a month’ is also not doable. But formulating tasks is the way to go.

‘Write down three blog topics to write about this month’ or ‘schedule 45 minutes three days a week to work on blog posts’.

Try to formulate tasks so that it’s difficult to fail. If you freeze up, it’s possible to fail at writing for 45 minutes. But it’s a lot harder to fail if you set yourself the task of writing, or at least sitting in front of the computer trying to write, for 45 minutes.

If you don’t fail repeatedly, you won’t feel ashamed or demoralised. And you won’t try to avoid the task.

There is only one resolution to make - and that is to always stick to achievable goals and break them down into doable tasks.

Before setting goals, write down the past year’s accomplishments. Allowing for Covid and the negativity associated with it, you might just surprise yourself when you see what you’ve achieved.

Write a long list of what you have learned, the people you’ve met, and the projects you have completed. It could be anything from painting a room to painting a sunset.

New experiences are accomplishments. So is surviving a failure or a loss. A lot of us are hard on ourselves, constantly saying ‘we must’ or ‘we should’ do this or that. It’s always stuff we don’t want to do.

As a result, we’re in a constant state of disappointment, all too aware of our shortcomings. We beat ourselves up over our inaction.

For 2022, go easy and set yourself goals rather than hurdles.

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