Have you recovered from the festivities yet? I know I wasn’t the only one who over-indulged these past few days, but with the new year fast approaching, it is now time to start thinking about what we want 2017 to look like.
Many magazines, blogs and newsletters will be full of tips and tricks for “New Year, new you”, how to get rid of all your bad habits, and how best to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. I’m all about writing down goals and making plans for bettering yourself, but I have to admit something – I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions.
I used to make them as well, and I don’t remember a single time when my New Year’s resolutions (usually something to do with eating fewer crisps/sweets and going to the gym more) would actually become a lasting habit.
But then a couple of years ago, I read Sofia Faruqi’s post on Quartz titled “Why you should make a resolution each month instead of each new year”, and I thought “Yes!! That sounds so much better!”
Based on various books about willpower, Faruqi explains that the reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work is that we only have so much willpower at any one time, and if we have a whole list of resolutions that we’re working towards in one go, most of them are bound to fail. So instead she set herself the challenge of writing 11 goals, one for each month of the year (January’s task was to write down the list), and working towards a single goal every month.
“It’s a good idea to build early success by setting easier goals at the start”, Faruqi writes, after failing to stick to her goal for March: changing her morning routine and getting up at 6am every morning, rather than 8am. “Willpower increases with effort and I didn’t have it just one month into the experiment.”
As the challenge went on, Faruqi started to notice how much easier it was getting to stick to the challenges, even ones that she expected to be really difficult, like not drinking any coffee in November. “After nine months of practice, I had developed the willpower to break an addiction.”
She also discovered that the monthly resolutions had a lasting effect, even the ones that she only kept up for a single month. “It is obvious that my behavior has changed since the experiment began in February. I now work out twice a week and have no difficulty turning down dessert […] And the icing on the non-cake is that it is no longer a struggle. I am not fighting myself anymore since my thoughts and actions are aligned with each other.”
Originally her plan was to just do this for 2014, but when she got to the end of the year and saw how amazing the changes were that she’d achieved, she decided to keep going in 2015. “Baumeister is correct that ‘Exercising self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life.’ The challenges will evolve as my personal goals change, and the journey to greater self-control will continue.”
I’ve tried this approach for the past couple of years, and I’ve found it really helpful! In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I usually lose my focus towards the end of the year, but the first 8 months or so have been pretty successful! Some of the things I have tried in the past couple of years include swimming twice a week, tracking my spending every day, being in bed by 11:30 every night, cooking 2 new recipes every week, getting up at 6:30 every morning (yeah, right…), writing down my to do list for the next day each evening, and not drinking any coke.
Some months have gone better than others, but all in all this habit has helped me make lots of positive changes, and I intend to use it again next year. I also ran this exercise in January during my Money Mastery Challenge, and I know that many of the ladies who took part in that challenge kept going throughout 2016 with great results.
So now it’s your turn! Think about any New Year’s resolutions you’ve already decided on, or things you’d like to change in your life, and make a list! Like Sofia Faruqi, you can make number 1 “write down my monthly resolutions”, but what else would you like to try? As a personal finance blogger I would obviously recommend that at least one of those things should relate to your finances, but they can be about anything, as illustrated by the examples above.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Pick different kinds of things with different levels of difficulty
- When allocating a goal for each month, start with the easy ones
- Think of other things you have coming up – for me, for example, April is “birthday season”, with lots of birthdays in one go, so I wouldn’t pick “no cake” for April
- Come up with different ways of reminding yourself of your goals, or you might forget about them. Write them in big in your wall calendar, add regular notifications to pop up on your phone, put post its on your computer or your fridge – whatever works for you and makes sure you remember
For more inspiration, read Sofia Faruqi’s blog post, and let me know how you get on!