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January is always a strange month. There are memes, reels, and TikTok’s galore about the horror of coming out of the haze of the holidays in a cheese and cookie-induced fugue. Everything you said you would circle back on in December… now requires you to circle back. Everything you said was next year's problems… are now this year's problems.
Then, there’s the recovery from a complete break from routines. Your sleep schedule is off by several hours, and you can no longer justify alcohol and chocolate with every meal. The crescendo of holiday responsibilities drops off, only to be replaced with bills and everything you left for the new year.
Current you curses past you for all the things you didn’t get to.
The bright spot is the feeling of possibility that comes with the turning of the year. With last year in the rearview mirror, you can consider the year ahead and the opportunities for change. Perhaps you set goals, resolutions, or themes and feel a renewed motivation for better habits.
However, within a few days, the new year's shine steadily wears off as you settle back into the normal rhythms of daily life. Your diligent commitment to setting goals and establishing good habits begins to wane as (at least where I live) the cold and dark start to wear on you. If not the cold and dark, then the typical weight of adult responsibilities.
Motivation becomes harder to muster. Your habits start to slip a little… then a lot. The goals you set get shelved. Resolutions abandoned.
So, what can you do to stay motivated to keep to your goals and the habits you set to achieve them as the days pass deeper into the new year?
How to stay motivated after the shine of the new year wears off
Re-evaluate if your goals were realistic to begin with
One of the biggest mistakes you are likely to make when you set goals at the beginning of the new year is you set too many goals and expect immediate results.
In your eagerness and excitement for a New Year, New You, you set ALL THE goals and try to completely change your sleep, food, movement and life routines. You will go to bed at 10 pm every night, wake up at 5 am, do yoga every morning, meditate, journal, drink 2L of water daily, cut coffee and carbs, and do dry January. You also want to start a side hustle and call your Dad more often. All while also being a caretaker to kids/pets/parents, engaging with partners/friends/family, and, of course, building your career.
Whew! I’m exhausted just reading that.
It’s fantastic to be inspired to make positive changes in your life, but when you set too many goals, it can be challenging to do the things necessary to move them forward regularly. You usually have to establish new habits or stop old habits to make progress on them. Changing or starting a single habit is hard enough; changing or starting several habits often sets you up for failure.
Remember, it takes a long time to establish new habits (between 8-10 weeks!), and change is often slower than you want. Focus is vital to making progress, so you don’t get discouraged. Instead of trying to restructure your whole life and do all the things in an attempt to do the ‘ol New Year, New You, narrow your goals down to one or two.
You can always set new goals later in the year when you have achieved or integrated the ones you set now. Keep going. Stay consistent. It will get easier the longer you do it, and you will see results; you just have to be patient.
Shift your focus from outcomes to systems
Part of narrowing your goals and adjusting your expectations for how quickly things will change is to let go of the outcome you are trying to get to and instead focus on the process. You want to set your direction with your goal, but the way to make progress is by establishing a system.
I detail more in the preceding article, but the gist is this:
- Break your goal down into its smallest possible components: Don’t look at the whole process and all the steps to get there, which might feel overwhelming. Just start with the first, smallest one.
- Be consistent: Setting up daily, small, incremental steps is a way to keep moving forward on something and ensures constant, regular progress, which by itself is motivating.
- Plan your systems based on the assumption of hardship: It’s easy to do something when things are going well. How can you help yourself keep going when life gets messy, or things go sideways?
- Iterate, iterate, iterate: It’s easier to focus on being better at something than being good at something. Maybe the habit or goal you set for yourself wasn’t the right one for this season of your life, or maybe you need to modify it or simplify it somehow. If something you are trying isn’t working, it’s ok to try it another way.
Reflect on the types of things that motivate you best
I wrote about the types of motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic) and how to use them. Again, the gist is this: some things motivate you for their own sake, and some things will motivate you for a reward (or to avoid punishment). Often, it’s a combination of both. Consider what motivates you and integrate them into your system for setting a habit and working towards your goals. When the initial motivation of the new year starts to wear off, you will have additional motivators waiting in the wings.
Some examples of other kinds of motivators might be to:
- Track your progress: Mark down every time you do your habit or make steps towards it. Once I started my workout and daily reflection streaks, it became harder to break the chain and motivated me to keep doing them.
- Get an accountability buddy: Having someone to check in on your progress or work on your habit with you can help you keep going when you aren’t feeling it.
- Decide on a reward for achieving milestones of your goal: Maybe it’s something you buy for yourself, like a treat or a new shirt, or maybe it’s time for something, like an afternoon off of a meal out. It doesn't matter what it is, just that it encourages you to keep up your habit.
Give yourself the space and grace to begin again
Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, things go sideways. Sometimes, life happens, and you have to reprioritize other stuff because there is only so much time and energy available each day. Give yourself some grace when things don’t go as planned, or your resolve to keep to your habit weakens. It’s normal and human. Give yourself the space to do what you need, and then start it back up when you can.
It’s ok if you sometimes miss a day or don’t do the thing. The key is to remember that you can always begin again.
If you haven’t had a chance to set goals for the new year yet, it’s not too late. Give these a read for ideas:
- How To Do an Annual Reflection to Get The Most Out Of The Year Ahead
- Take Aim: How To Reflect, Set Direction, and Make Progress In The Year Ahead
- New Year, More Intentional You
If you could use a hand setting and keeping to your goals, I can help!