Positive Inspirational Stories
Featured Inspirational Story - January and February 2018
Keeping New Year’s Resolutions - the secret additive
Two years ago, having reached the 70 year age mark, I decided to get fitter by doing more cycling - regularly. I mixed road riding with the home trainer, and achieved 369 days in a row! Then I encountered a slight ‘bump in the road’, being diagnosed with cancer. And that too was a positive, as because I was so physically fit by then, I was able to be treated with a much higher dose of chemo than normal, and recovered within six months.
But back to my riding - how was I able to go from zero days to 369?
As an organisational psychologist, I knew what most of the research has said about setting goals and keeping to them - all good advice. So, I used most of the following, with one critical addition. Surprisingly, this one addition is little known, yet I believe, is the additive that makes the difference.
Firstly, the experts’ advice . . .
People are motivated to regain something lost - such as physical fitness, rather than to gain something new. So, your New Year’s resolution should be easier to keep if it focusses on regaining something that you once had. Still, although perhaps a little more challenging, it’s eminently possible to achieve a new goal or acquire a new skill with a little perseverance.
Cue and Reward
Whether you are making a new habit from scratch or changing an old habit, decide on the cue and the reward. The cue could be a time, a place or a feeling, while the reward must be instantaneous. In my case, the cue was a time - 6.30am every morning when I awoke, and the reward was twofold - recording my time on the bike immediately after I finished and seeing the record grow day by day (it was great to get to the first 50 days!), followed by a warm shower and a fabulous cup of coffee. As an aside, there are some studies that show that simple habits form more quickly in the morning - researchers believe this may be due to the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which tend to be highest when we wake up. Taking on the new behaviour in the morning could also help.
Part of a long-term plan
Rather than short term goals or behaviour changes, try to make your resolutions a step along the path to a goal. In my case, I was keen to become fit enough to take another cycling holiday in France. And by taking small steps, such as 15 minutes per day on the home trainer, I was eventually able to (on one occasion), do a 100km road ride.
Tell someone else about your plan: doing so, gives you an immediate sense of satisfaction - according to some studies simply having your goal acknowledged makes it a part of your identity and results in a rush of feel-good/reward hormones. And because your goal is now public, it is likely to keep you more honest in your endeavours. However, there are apparently some downsides. It depends on who you tell. Will they be supportive and encourage you even when you slip up and take that extra piece of cake, or will they look askance disapprovingly? Choose your confidante wisely.
The secret additive - the language you use to describe your goal
Finally, the secret additive - the language you use to describe your goal. There are two components - firstly, express the goal and the steps you are taking to achieve it, in the present tense rather than the future tense (as most of our New Year’s resolutions are expressed). For example, instead of saying ‘I am going to get fitter by exercising 20 minutes per day’, say “’I am exercising 20 minutes every day’. Apparently, this tricks the brain into thinking that because we are already saying that something is happening, it thinks that it is. According to research by M.K. Chen, Associate Professor of Economics at UCLA Anderson School of Management, people whose first language naturally encourages them to express their goals in the present tense, are far more successful.
The second component of using the best language to achieve your goal, is to avoid the use of the word ‘but’ and replace it with ‘and’. According to Dr Linda Sapadin, author of How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age, those of us who are prone to procrastination, tend to focus on a fear attached to achieving a goal, rather than figuring out how to get beyond the fear. And so, the fear becomes the excuse - usually expressed with a ‘but’ statement. For instance, I might say, ‘I wanted to get on the bike today, but I thought it was too cold’.
Whatever comes after the 'but' is what counts, says Sapadin. Change the word ‘but’ to ‘and’. ‘But’ denotes opposition and blockage; ‘And’ denotes connection and resolution, and as Sapadin explains, ‘the task becomes less daunting, the fear less of an obstacle.’ I therefore say ‘I am getting on the bike today and it’s cold and I’ll rug up well’.
So there you have it - how to make and keep those New Year’s resolutions - make sure your goals are achievable and part of a long-term plan, that you have the appropriate cues and rewards, that you tell the right people, and that you express it in the present tense. Oh, and remember to avoid ‘but’ and replace it with ‘and’ when you experience a potential block.
And guess what? I did manage to make it back to France and do yet another amazing cycling trip more than 20 years after my very first one. This time staying in Hidden House, my son's cycling gite in the Herault Valley of course.
Written by Bob Selden
January 1st 2017
Bob Selden is an organisational psychologist and the author of 'Don’t: How using the right words will change your life'. He’s also previously worked as a coach to sports coaches at the New South Wales, Australia, Academy of Sport. View details about Bob's book >>>
Visit Chris Selden's Hidden House . . . A gite for cyclists in the South of France >>>
- Finding a Forever Home
- Grandma's Thimble
- When you thought I wasn't looking
- Left Behind
- Enjoy your nectarine
- The Old Phone . . . How do you spell fix?
- You make a difference
- Lessons from Geese
- The Richest Man in the Valley
- The Making of a Memory
- Why The Elephants Dont Run
- The Sandpiper . . . to bring you joy
- They don't walk in your shoes . . . Click, Click, Click!
- The Happiest Day of My Life
- Courage - Despite the Odds
- You just never know
- Learning to Listen
- If it is meant to be, it will be
- The Learning Tree
- The Red Marbles
- The Weeds of Our Lives
- The Distinct Sound of Purring
- Flowers for the Teacher
- The Red Ribbon
- Santa's Love
- All The Good Things
- Yusuf - He's My Brother
- Extra Good Luck
- Hoo Hoo Fraks
- Stand tall like the Sunflower
- Unique Words of Forgiveness
- I Got Back On My Seat
- Brick Wall
- White Envelopes
- Love and Music in Their Hearts
- Birthday Cards with Secret Codes
- Gift Exchange - lessons about life!
- When the message light doesn't blink
- Tenant Farmers
- I know you by heart
- In Clay Vessels
- Letting Go
- When the nest emptied
- When the birdies came
- Broken Eggs and Shattered Glass
- After the applause, make time for words of praise!
- Are you a bucker filler or a dipper
- Choosing Confidence
- The Stone Soup Story
- A Mother's Job
- Hugging Life
- The Perfect Partnership
- Acknowledging a Special Treat
- A Different Perspective
- Life is meant to be lived
- Treasured Traditions
- Rules for a better way to live
- I Just Get Started
- Memories sustain us on Father’s Day
- Creating Opportunity
- Forgiving without condoning or forgetting
- Nothing is long or short, hot or cold, good or bad!
- The Power of Discipline
- Sentry of the Homestead
- You deserve an Academy Award!
- All in the Family
- What is your Passion?
- We danced through life
- A choice to make
- Five ingredients of personal growth
- Acres of Diamonds
- If you look like a duck . . .
- The Secret of Happiness
- Harvesting Love
- It's music to your ears
- A Special Brand of Luck
- They are just empty cars
- Thou Art An Eagle
- Encouragement Works
- When you're in the cement mixer
- Plant Annually
- Life and Its Legs
- No Barriers in Life
- Getting Started
- Good Leaders are Good Followers
- How much do you want it to be
- How to improve your vision
- What forgiveness will buy
- Why let that hold you back
- Letting the yeast work its magic
- 9 things that make good employees quit
- The Beginning of Positive Thinking
- Giving Back
- May you be known by your love
- Expand your vision of possibilities
- We are meant for the skies
- Mr Belser died last night
- Are you dead on the job
- What makes us happy
- Motivating Others
- The clock is running so make the most of today
- Calming the muddy waters
- Keeping New Year’s Resolutions - the secret additive
- You are unique
- Web of Love
- Is happiness around the corner
- Seeing Life Through New Eyes
- An enriching action
- The Road to Significance and Success
- The real purpose of your life
- With leadership its the little things that matter
- The Obstacle in our Path
- Good deeds no matter how small can change the world for someone