And with the new lockdown potentially putting different stresses on your health and wellbeing, it could be harder than ever to succeed.
But we’ve got some pointers to help you get over the habit hump when the going gets tough.
Set yourself a specific goal
Goal-setting is one of the most important parts of making changes in your life. This is how you know whether you’re on track to succeed or not. You can start with a broad statement, but the more specific you get, the more manageable it becomes.
If you want to lose weight, set yourself a target. “I want to be able to wear my old suit again” can be quite an abstract concept, but by setting yourself a specific target – “I want to lose a stone” – you can measure your progress more easily.
And writing down your goal as a positive phrase rather than a negative one can help your mindset as well. That way it doesn’t feel like you’re restricting yourself. Instead of “I will stop drinking soft drinks every day” try “I will drink water instead of soft drinks”.
Give yourself a reason to succeed
You have to think about why you want to do it at all. If you want to lose weight or exercise more because you feel like you should, you will be less motivated to do it.
If you want to exercise more so you can get back into playing sport or because you want to be able to keep up with your kids, then add that to your goal statement to help remind you why you are doing what you are doing.
People tend to make their resolutions as bold, sweeping statements which can make them harder to focus on, but by setting smaller, more achievable goals you can tackle a larger issue much more easily.
Wanting to quit smoking by this time next year is a noble and healthy ambition, but if you’re getting through a pack a day, you may be better off making incremental changes like cutting down to three-quarters of pack by the end of February. From there you can reassess where you’re at and where you want to get to next.
Break the cycle
Breaking habits is difficult because they’ve been ingrained in us over a long period – that’s what makes them habits! So, it’s important to look at the elements that make up that habit.
If you want to quit smoking, look at what triggers the urge to have a cigarette and try to replace it or be prepared for when those triggers happen. If you always have a cigarette after finishing your dinner, think about whether you actually want to have a smoke or whether that’s just your routine. Could you do something different to distract yourself straight after dinner, like going for a walk or reading your child a bedtime story?
Lead yourself not into temptation
And be kind to yourself! There’s no need to test your willpower by putting yourself in tempting situations. Whey torture yourself by walking up and down the confectionery aisle in Tesco if you’re trying to kick a sugar habit - just to see if you can resist.
The important thing is to avoid situations where you might find slip into old habits, and to be mentally prepared for when you’re tempted.
Get into a new rhythm
Make it as easy as possible to stick to your goals. If you know you’re going to be getting up early to exercise, have your clothes ready so you can stay in bed that little bit longer and ease yourself into this lifestyle change.
It’s important to develop repeatable, sustainable patterns when you’re starting something new too. Most people start out very gung-ho and start to drift as life begins to get in the way and running 10 miles after drinking 6 raw eggs each morning starts to become less appealing.
Build the changes you want to make into your lifestyle as best you can, and you’ll find your goals are much easier to achieve.
Give yourself a break
Most people don’t stick to their resolutions because life gets in the way or things get difficult. It’s OK to slip up every now and again, and you don’t need to beat yourself up if it happens. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a day at the gym or have an unhealthy meal – the important thing is that you don’t do it 2 days in a row. As long as the slip-ups stay as slip-ups, then you’re well on your way.
There’s no one way to achieve any given task, and most of the time you don’t need to put yourself through extreme situations to make lifestyle changes. There’s no law saying you have to get fitter by running more – maybe try brisk walks or cycling.
Listen to Mary Poppins
Pairing your new habit with something you enjoy can be the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Set yourself boundaries like “I will only watch 90 Day Fiancée while I’m on the exercise bike” or “I will only listen to my favourite podcast while I clean the house” and you’ll be surprised how motivated you feel.
And when things get difficult – and they no doubt will – don’t forget why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Making or breaking a habit is hard work, and achieving your goal is its own reward of sorts, but don’t forget to keep yourself motivated along the way. Breaking your bigger goals down into manageable chunks can help you mark those important milestones.
But don’t reward yourself with something that will be counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve – there’s not much point rewarding yourself with a piece of cake every time you go to the gym.
If you are trying to give something up, put aside the money you would normally spend on it and treat yourself to something when you reach your next milestone.
What do you want to achieve?
Developing a new habit or breaking an old routine is a bit like tipping over a vending machine. Don’t expect it to happen straight away, but stick with it, rock it back and forth, and eventually it will fall over. We’ve got a couple of guides that might help: