Making It Past the Mid-January Lag

alarm clockWe’ve made it past the third week of 2015 and I’ve already been floored by some of the results I’ve seen from friends and family on New Year’s resolutions. If you’ve also seen some success, good work. But this week I want to talk about how to get yourself through the next phase of keeping your resolutions, something I like to call the mid-January lag.

You might have started to feel it creep up on you. The first two weeks of change were easier than you thought and made you feel good about your choices for the new year. But fatigue starts to grow. Going to the gym just makes you feel tired, putting on your running shoes has become a chore, and the new healthy meals you’ve been making are starting to lose their appeal.

The phenomenon is well known and documented in the sociology community. Recent research using location check-in data from Facebook supported that idea in finding that gym attendance soars during the month of December only to drop off starting the third week of January. The slide continues until a core group remains who successfully keep the resolution to get healthy and fit well into the new year.

Why does this happen? There are a host of different reasons, but I’ll go through a few here that might help you to stay on track if you’ve been starting to fall off.

Time to Reevaluate

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s important to make your resolutions slightly out of reach but achievable. The temptation is to set your goal too high. You might start out going to the gym five days a week, but after a week it drops to three and then to two. Many will give up at this point. Instead, reassess your goals to something more realistic now that you have a better idea of what realistic means. I want you to write down all of your resolutions. For any that have proven too challenging, ratchet them back a little to make them more manageable and try again.

Fight Decision Fatigue

This is an idea that has been generating more and more research in recent years. The concept is that the brain starts to tire after making a certain number of decisions. The more decisions you have to make per day, the worse you get at making them by the end. Resolutions add decisions to your life. Suddenly you’re trying to decide how much kale to add to your smoothie or whether you should run on the treadmill or go to a spinning class.

When your brain is tired, it tends to go with the path of least resistance, which is what you were doing before you set your goals. The solution? Cut down on the decisions you have to make by organizing your day in advance. Make your lunches for the week on Sunday so that you don’t have to decide what to eat the day of. Have an action plan set up for when the weather is bad and you can’t jog outside. Taking the guesswork out of new behaviors makes you less likely to tire and make the wrong choice.

Make New Habits

The goal of making New Year’s resolutions is to form new habits. Once that’s done, you stop having to think about them because they become second nature. Research into habits has found that it takes about 66 days for them to form. That means the new behavior is going to feel harder than the old routine for about two months, but it will eventually get much easier. I want you to set up a regular schedule for your new habits. Decide on a time and location to fulfill your resolutions and schedule it out in advance. For example, if you’re trying to bring lunch to work more often, schedule a time to do so that’s the same every day, like 8 p.m. every night. This works well for workouts. Make a schedule and stick to it. After a few weeks, you’ll find the time and location trigger the new behavior without you having to think about it.

Get More Sleep

I’ve noticed that many people who add new resolutions to their life tend to sacrifice sleep in the process. They get up an hour earlier to go to the gym or stay up late trying to write the memoir they’ve been meaning to get on paper. But losing sleep can have a serious impact on your brain’s ability to perform. You process information more slowly, forget things more easily, and tend to make worse decisions on less sleep than you’re used to. If all of your New Year’s resolutions are causing you to get less than seven to eight hours of sleep, cut back. You’ll be more successful focusing on fewer tasks with a good night’s sleep to support you.