We all know New Year’s resolutions don’t work. And yet, year after year, we make them, only to fail a few days, weeks or months later. Why is that?

New Year Celebration

How many times have you started the New Year with the ambition of making some drastic and dramatic changes in your life? And how many times have you succeeded? It is a scientific fact that very few people achieve their New Year’s resolutions, unless they are supported through that process of change. (We will get back to this point in a moment.)

Most people want to change bad habits, such as smoking, as a resolution for the New Year, only to fail dismally after just a few days. Of course, putting so much pressure on the first few days of January will most likely lead to failure, as well as not understanding how to change habits.

In his book The Power of Habit,  Arthur Duhigg explains that habits are automated or conditioned responses. In the example of smoking, having smoked twenty cigarettes every day for any number of years means that it has become automatic. Finished a meal? Light a cigarette. Want to take a break? Light a cigarette. Having a drink? Light a cigarette. And you’re not even aware of it because the habit has been reinforced through years of repetition. In effect the subconscious mind has taken over the function from the conscious mind and so it becomes ingrained and very difficult to change.

You cannot just delete a habit, as that will leave a big gap in your daily routine. If you don’t replace it with another habit, the old habit will just find its way back in, based on the subconscious conditioning. So in order to get rid of the old habit, you need to create a new, healthier habit with which to replace the old one. You can for instance use a stress ball, or drink some water, or go for a short walk. Anything really, as long as you don’t leave that gap in your life. And to create a new habit takes up to six weeks of repetition. The easier the new habit is, the greater your chance of success.

It is always easiest to start with small changes. You may know the saying: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! And indeed, wanting to have a six-pack or reduce fifty kilograms or any other change might seem to be such an overwhelming task, that you will in all likelihood give up after just a few days or weeks. Change is best affected when it is done in small steps upon which you can build over time.

So you want a six-pack? Start by doing just one or two sit-ups daily to start establishing a routine. Then after a week or two, increase it to five sit-ups. After another few weeks, you may want to increase it to ten or twenty. In this way you are taking small steps that lead to more steps that, in the long run, will lead to lasting change and ripped abs. By starting with a hundred per day you will only be setting yourself up for failure.

Want to reduce your weight? Stop thinking of going on a diet and just slowly start changing the way you eat. How about starting off by halving the number teaspoons of sugar you put in your coffee or tea. Or replace the garage pie with a fruit. Or cut out fizzy drinks and replace it with water. Then, after some time, you can add the next step, such as weighing yourself daily and keeping notes of your weight to see which of the changes you are implementing are having the desired effect.

Then add another small change, such as cutting down on meat and adding more vegetables and salad to your plate. Then, perhaps, start adding some light exercise to your daily routine and, over time, increase the frequency and duration of your chosen exercise routine. And before you know it, six months or a year will have passed and you will be able to see real results. And by that time, you will have changed your lifestyle, making it sustainable in the long run and keeping the weight off permanently.

But we all want instant results, as we live in a world of instant food and instant gratification. In his book Everything is F*cked, author Mark Mason stresses the fact that if you want to achieve something, you have to make the effort and sacrifice to do so. Want to get into a regular fitness routine and get those sought-after abs we spoke about earlier? Then you have to make the sacrifice by getting up early, while everyone else is still asleep, and slowly but surely start working towards your goals.

He goes on to say that we should choose what we give a f*ck about. For instance, stop giving a f*ck about what’s happening on social media and start giving a f*ck about your health. He says that pursuing happiness is not something to achieve, but it is a constant work-in-progress.  (So, in my opinion, is a healthy lifestyle.) His book is well worth the read, as it also explores issues such as why you are not special and that you need to take responsibility for what happens to you.

But let’s get back to why we should forget about making New Year’s resolutions. If you want to make a change in your life, don’t put it off to some distant date in the future. By doing so, you will give up before you’ve even started, because subconsciously it seems unachievable. Once you have decided to make a change, rather start right now, today, right this minute.

Start small. Start by doing just something, something that you can build upon tomorrow and the next day and in the weeks and months to come. Perhaps just start by drawing up an achievable plan with realistic goals and dates. It is as simple as that. Take one small “bite” at a time and work steadily and surely towards your goal.

And to get back to my earlier point: Make sure you have some support. It is easier to start jogging with a friend or family member than alone, because you can both motivate and even challenge each other. Or go and see a therapist of some kind to help you get clarity, a person who can assist you through your process of change.

Don’t wait for January 1st to make changes. Don’t even wait till Monday. Just start today. Start now. And slowly work your way to success.