As we enter into a new year, gym managers will be enjoying their annual rise in memberships, while language teachers may find themselves with a few more students than normal who’ve finally got around to learning Mandarin.

Yes, we’ve entered that sweet phase of new year, new beginnings, where we break out the mother of all to-do lists and fill them up with optimistic resolutions for the next 12 months.

When it comes to resolutions, I’ve tended to fail quite spectacularly. Since the age of 21, I’ve planned to learn Italian and Spanish and in the progress I’ve made, I can ask for rice and apples in both languages, and call for a horse should I ever need one.

Should I visit Italy or Spain, I’m grateful that I’ll never starve or lack for basic transport, but it’s despairing to think that all those years of brief determinations have yielded little fruit.

Nowadays, resolutions appear to be dismissed as little more than a New Year joke – not five minutes pass after we resolve to be fitter and healthier and we’re already reaching out for the leftover mince pies.

It really is a struggle for many of us to remain true to the well-intended regime of personal development we set each year, and I’ve long wondered why we find it so hard to stick to a plan of action that we know will serve to our benefit over the short and long term.

As 2016 drew to a close, I thought I’d jot down some ideas from personal experience on why I’ve failed to get past the basic food stuffs in Italian and Spanish (and the horse) and what I could do to make resolutions stick.

With that in mind, I’d love to share the following five pointers in the hope that they might help others who find themselves stuck in a similar rut.

1. Don’t make resolutions – make a commitment to yourself

These two words, “resolution” and “commitment”, effectively mean the same thing – but words have a psychological influence.

To make a resolution sounds final; it feels like a rule, something we have to do and so, like any chore, it’s easy to procrastinate. If we make a commitment to ourselves, it feels like we’re investing in our well-being and so we will be more likely to stick with it.

Consider: “My New Year’s resolution is to learn a new language.” “I am committed to learning a new language this year, as it will enrich my experience when I visit the country next year.” See the difference? A resolution is like a directive. A commitment offers a purpose, value, and meaning.

2. Strive for progress, not perfection

It’s so easy to get frustrated when we lapse or fail to meet expectations early on.

Let’s say you plan to eat healthily from 2017 onwards, but within a few days you find yourself tucking into nasi lemak followed by some cendol. The temptation is to see the failure, right?

However, taking progressive steps is much more important – and realistic – than trying to go all out for your goal straight away.

If you make a commitment to eat more healthy foods, start by aiming for two or three days in the week when no junk is consumed, and build it up steadily from there.

Small victories like these will help to maintain your motivation.

3. Don’t beat yourself up

As much as we like to pretend otherwise, we all have our flaws, struggles and weaknesses.

It can be overwhelming whenever we give in to temptation, but punishing ourselves never works to the benefit of ourselves or others – if anything, it drives us to make even more mistakes.

If you stumble at an obstacle when trying to keep away from the desserts or commit to an exercise plan, don’t judge yourself. Instead, dust yourself off, remind yourself of your commitment, and begin again.

4. Avoid pushing yourself too hard

Any long distance runner will tell you that, over a long race, it’s important to pace yourself. Anyone who begins a marathon by sprinting will quickly be ahead of the field – but not for long.

Similarly, any worthwhile goal takes time to achieve and so, while it’s important to keep at it, remember to give yourself a break from time to time to avoid burning out.

Have that piece of cake once in a while, skip the odd gym session if you need to rest.

If you push yourself too hard, your motivation will surely fade to nothing. Give yourself a well-deserved timeout now and again.

5. Enjoy yourself

Getting healthier, learning a new language, or whatever you want to do for yourself is something that should be met with joy – after all, whatever commitment you make to yourself is bound to be a worthwhile investment.

Don’t look on it as a chore, but rather as something that is helping you to be your best self every day. Relish the challenges that present themselves, and overcome them with a smile on your face with each progressive step you take.


Sandy Clarke has long held an interest in emotions, mental health, mindfulness and meditation. He believes the more we understand ourselves and each other, the better societies we can create. If you have any questions or comments, e-mail star2@thestar.com.my.