What is it about January? With newfound motivation, we enter the year ready to succeed, ready to be inspired, ready for this to, finally, be the year we do all the things we promised ourselves we would. But then, that spark starts to fade.
January somehow puts it out as quickly as December lit it, and often, come February, we are back to the same habits, the same excuses and the same feelings of failure that have, over the years, become ingrained in our annual routine. Of course, there are those who take that January motivation and make it last all the way through, but they make up just eight per cent of world's population. For the other 92 per cent of us, it's another year of what ifs, while we wait for the turn of the next clean page.
Today is the day that supposedly sparks our downfall. Dubbed Blue Monday, it is marked as the saddest day of the year; the day the festive spirit officially slips away, the weight of a new year hits, and our optimistic goals begin to slip, statistics suggest.
The third Monday in January has become a global representation of misery, thanks to United Kingdom-based psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall, who coined the term 14 years ago. But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially not in the UAE. One of the contributing factors to Blue Monday in other parts of the world is the weather, so we already have one reason to be cheerful. And as for ensuring we achieve our goals, it’s all a matter of how we set them up, says Dr Saliha Afridi, founder of the Lighthouse of Arabia Centre for Well-being in Dubai.
Breaking the habit
“I think people set goals without considering the science of habit change. They believe that wanting something, mustering enough willpower, and thinking they are committed is enough to get them to achieve their goals. It isn’t the case,” she says. “Habit change is basically like trying to break an addiction — it takes intention, effort, willpower, understanding of the underlying issues, triggers, and bounce-back plans.”
The first step, says Afridi, is really getting to the bottom of the reasons behind your goals. Instead of just saying "I want to stop smoking" or "I want to lose weight", you must first realise why that is. "It might be something as superficial as fitting into a particular pair of jeans to look good at a particular party," she says, "but often it's much more deeply rooted than that. Food, for example, is often a comfort for people as it stems from it being a reward in childhood, and breaking that habit will take understanding and work."
The same goes for understanding the reason you failed. For many people, a New Year's resolution is not something they've thought up on a whim. It's a goal they would have tried to achieve before, perhaps several times. "Remember the last time you tried to achieve this goal and identify what got in the way," Afridi suggests. "That way, you can see where you went wrong and come up with a plan to stop that from happening again."
Any regular gym goer will tell you the dread they experience in the first weeks of January. But the fight for a machine among the influx of new faces quickly dwindles, and by the third week, it's often business as usual.
Understanding your failures
“Many people are motivated to achieve fitness goals in the first week or two of January,” says Chris Beavers, personal trainer and deputy general manager of Ultimate Performance Dubai. “But by the end of the month, this initial motivation and momentum has waned, and these bold fitness goals often fall by the wayside, the gym membership is forgotten about and old habits creep back in.”
There are three main reasons for this, Beavers says. The first is having a wildly optimistic goal. "Something like trying to lose 20 kilos by the end of January," he says. The second is not making your goals clear or precise enough, vowing to lose weight or get fit, for example, without working out how.
“Think of it this way – would you ever set off on a journey without knowing your exact destination or without a map to direct you there? Of course not. And it’s the same with fitness goals,” Beavers explains.
The third cause for failure is not building behaviours or new healthy habits into your lifestyle in a way that will support your goals. It can be something as little as vowing to always take the stairs, or making sure you reach your recommended 10,000 steps a day. Starting with the small, tangible changes will help to build long-lasting habits, which is the key to realising your goals.
The importance of micro-habits is something Afridi reiterates. “It’s [smaller than] baby steps. It’s tiny, micro movements until enough momentum and esteem is developed, and you can move faster towards your goal.”
Swerving the roadblocks
Blue Monday brings with it a crucial point for those on a mission for the new year. And one of the most important things in helping you join the 8 per cent of people who achieve their resolutions is understanding there will be road blocks.
"It's important to build in room for 'bad days'. If you're trying to stop smoking, give yourself one emergency cigarette a month, but never go over that. If it's exercise, let yourself have two days off your schedule a month, but make the rest non-negotiable," Afridi suggests.
But, most importantly, it’s not letting the clock dictate your life. “The new year is a good to help you focus on your goals, but time is arbitrary, it’s a man-made concept,” she says. “People think if they didn’t start on January 1, why start now? You don’t have to wait until Sunday, or the start of February. Just make the decision – it’s never too late or too early, right now is as good a time as any.”