Why Easter resolutions trump New Year’s goals

Have your New Year’s resolutions flopped? Performance and coaching psychologist Dylan Arnot says Easter resolutions could be the secret to success.

You know how it goes. You dusted off your trainers enthusiastically in the first week of January, then purchased new activewear in the second week.

You even attended two or three aerobic classes, shrugged off the soreness of that first session and turned up focused and determined for the next.

Now here you are — your tally of exercise classes hasn’t budged since that first optimistic fortnight.

If your New Year’s resolutions have flopped, don’t fret: you’re not alone, and the good news is you can do something about it.

Why New Year’s resolutions often fail

Studies suggest most New Year’s resolutions have failed by the second week of February.

And research collected from the data of 800 million Strava users — an app for running, cycling and hiking — found that most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions within 19 days.

There are various reasons why resolutions on the first day of the calendar year are generally unsuccessful.

Goals may not be realistic enough, steps towards these goals may not be concrete or specific enough. This list goes on.

However, the problem may not be how these goals are set but when we set them.

We may be far more likely to achieve resolutions if we set them at Easter than in January.

Why setting resolutions at Easter is smarter

In January

If the characters of the months could be described as animals, January would be a monkey.

We’re well rested so we have plenty of energy.

We’re playful and full of inspiration.

We’re motivated to change, to pursue new paths, to set new habits.

But we’re disconnected from the realities of the grind… A monkey just isn’t great at commitment.

In February or March

February and March? Don’t even bother.

All of that freedom and hope and excitement are swiftly stolen as we drag ourselves kicking and screaming back to work, the school routine, the year ahead.

Picture a brumby being forced into the confines of a stable (or a work cubicle).

Not a great time to set a resolution!

At Easter

And then Easter comes along.

Now we’re more like a Clydesdale workhorse — head down, plodding along, a certain acceptance (even resignation) to the groove of the grind.

The excitement and pressure of the new year have subsided, yet we retain some of the energy and clarity from our summer break.

Importantly, the Easter break affords time to reflect and catch our breath; we’re more connected to the reality of our lives, which means we are better prepared for the difficulty of setting a new habit.

How long does it take to form a new habit?

Perhaps you’ve heard it takes 21 days to set a new habit? It’s a myth.

This abstract figure arose from a self-help book in the 1960s about how long it may take for a patient to get accustomed to the results of their plastic surgery.

So how long does it actually take to set up a new habit?

According to Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern Carolina and author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick, new habits take about two to three months to stick.

But be aware that setting a new habit is uncomfortable.

While the benefits associated with your intended habit are exciting, motivating and perhaps life-changing, the actual setting of the habit relies on an openness to some discomfort on a consistent basis.

How to set Easter resolutions that last

1. Implement friction

Simply put, increase friction to reduce unwanted habits, and decrease friction to pave the way for positive habits.

Take the example of “I don’t want to drink alcohol on weekdays”.

While you may have a box of wines in the house for dinner parties, you can increase the friction to easily accessible wine during the week by storing the box in a shed at the back of the garden instead.

Now if you want a glass of wine after work, you will need to walk to the shed and clamber through cobwebs and garden equipment first.

Conversely, for a positive habit such as going to the gym before work, you can decrease friction by making sure you have at least two sets of gym outfits so you don’t need to do a wash after every workout, and having the clothes ready the night before.

2. Go as small as possible

Speaker and entrepreneur James Clear, who wrote the best-seller Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, says it in a nutshell.

“Too often we convince ourselves that massive results require massive action…  Improving by 1% isn’t particularly notable, sometimes it isn’t noticeable, but it can be far more meaningful — especially in the long run.”

3. Stay accountable

Imagine a political party or charity you can’t stand. Now imagine donating a significant amount of money to them.

Feels a bit silly, right?

This is the crazy idea behind Stickk.com, a Yale-based initiative to support people to stay accountable and achieve their set goals.

First, you set a goal. Next, you choose an anti-charity and the amount of money you will pledge to that cause if you don’t follow through on your commitment.

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing like avoiding having a publicly listed donation to a dubious cause to encourage me to stay off the midweek booze for three months.

If this level of commitment is a bit extreme for you, instead state your intended habit to a couple of trusted friends, asking them to support you if you find yourself straying.

Dylan Arnot is a performance and coaching psychologist through his private practice, Eudo Strategies in Prahran, Melbourne

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Written by Dylan Arnot