The custom of setting New Year's goals, also known as New Year's resolutions, has a long history that dates back to ancient civilizations. The ancient Babylonians are credited with starting the tradition of making New Year's resolutions, as they believed that a person's fate for the coming year was influenced by the actions they took on the first day of the year.
The ancient Romans also had a tradition of making New Year's resolutions, and they would often make promises to the god Janus, who was the god of beginnings and endings. The Romans would make resolutions to improve their character and behavior, and they would often seek forgiveness for their mistakes from the previous year.
In modern times, the tradition of making New Year's resolutions has become a common practice in many cultures around the world. People often use the start of the new year as an opportunity to set goals and make positive changes in their lives. These goals might involve improving physical or mental health, career advancement, personal growth, or relationships.
As dog lovers, our goals often include our dogs - maybe you decide you will walk your dog every day, or if you compete in dog sports, you probably want to set goals around your (or your dog's) fitness and training. While it is good to have goals and to want to become better/fitter/healthier, the reality is that New Year's resolutions are really tough to stick to! This is because, for the most part, a New Year's resolution is something we try to add to our already busy lives. Unless we change some of the context that inspired our New Year goal - like our environment, our schedules, or our responsibilities - our resolutions do not have fertile soil to grow in, and will whither away quickly!
The other problem with setting goals is that - even if we achieve them - they do little to improve our overall happiness or health in the long term. The reason why reaching a goal only makes us happy for a short time is because of a concept called 'hedonic adaptation'. Hedonic adaptation, also known as the "hedonic treadmill," is the phenomenon in which people tend to quickly return to their baseline level of happiness after experiencing a positive or negative event. Essentially, it means that people tend to adapt to changes in their circumstances, both good and bad, and eventually return to their previous level of happiness (or unhappiness). This makes it difficult to sustain long-term happiness, as we tend to quickly become accustomed to positive changes in our circumstances. This is why it is often more effective to focus on finding balance and well-being in different areas of life, rather than just pursuing specific goals or achievements, in order to experience sustained happiness.
So how can we shift our lives to live more positively in a way that will set us up for success?
1. Start by setting an intention, and make it your theme for the year!
An intention is a guiding principle or purpose that helps to shape your actions and decisions. It is a broad concept that serves as a guiding light for your actions, as opposed to a goal, which is a specific, measurable target.
Your intention should be guided by your values. Your values are your core beliefs and principles that guide your actions and decisions. By focusing on what is really important to you, you can increase your motivation and sense of purpose, as you are working towards something that you find meaningful.
For example: If you feel like you need to take your dog for more walks, think about why this is important to you - is it because you feel that it is a responsibility, or is it because spending quality time with your dog is important to you, and you know that regular exercise increases your dog's chances of living a longer, healthier life? If you see it as a responsibility, it will compete with all your other responsibilities that you have every day. If you view exercise with your dog as quality time spent together, you will prioritise this daily ritual.
Give your intention for the year a name - turn it into your theme for the year, and stick it up on your fridge or by your desk at work! For example, if you want you and your dog to get more healthy exercise this year, your theme might be "Play Every Day!" This sets an intention for something you want to do, rather than something you have decided you should do.
2. Turn your values into positive habits
Habits are behaviors or actions that a person performs regularly and automatically, often without conscious thought. Habits can be both good and bad, depending on the specific behavior and the context in which it occurs. Habits can be powerful because they can shape our behavior and influence our actions without us even realizing it.
There are a few reasons why habits can be good:
Habits can save time and energy: By automating certain behaviors, habits can save us time and energy because we do not have to consciously think about what we are doing. This can be especially helpful when it comes to tasks or activities that we do frequently.
Habits can increase efficiency: Habits can also help us to be more efficient because we do not have to constantly stop and think about what we are doing. This can be especially helpful in situations where we need to make quick decisions or respond to changing circumstances.
Habits can improve the well-being of us and our dogs: Some habits, such as exercising regularly or eating a healthy diet, can improve our physical and mental health. These habits can help us to feel more energized, reduce our risk of certain health problems, and improve our overall sense of well-being.
Consider how your habits align with your values. By aligning your habits with your values, you can increase your motivation and sense of purpose, as you are engaging in something that is meaningful and important to you. It can also help you to make better decisions and prioritise your time and resources. For example, if having a healthy dog is important to you, but most of the time you spend with your dog involves the couch and some yummy but unhealthy treats, your habits do not align with your values. You then need to consider some other ways in which you can spend time with your dog that better reflects your values of supporting your dog's health and well-being.
3. Stack up your success!
Habit stacking is a technique that involves combining a new habit with an existing habit in order to make it easier to establish the new habit. The idea is that by "stacking" the new habit onto a habit that you already do consistently, it becomes easier to remember to do the new habit and it becomes a natural part of your routine.
For example, if you want to do some mobility exercises with your dog every day, you might stack this new habit onto your dog's existing morning feeding routine by doing the exercises with the dog's breakfast as reward. This way, you don't have to remember to do your dog's exercises at a separate time, because it becomes part of the existing morning routine.
Habit stacking can be a useful strategy for establishing new habits because it takes advantage of the momentum of your existing habits and helps to build the new habit into your daily routine.
A great way to celebrate your success in integrating new habits into your life is to use an app like Habitshare to share habits with friends for extra motivation & accountability.
4. Be kind to yourself!
Setting a positive intention for the New Year is an investment in the happiness and well-being of both you and your dog, and most importantly: it doesn't need to be perfect to be good! Even small positive changes can have a big impact, so focus on what you can do, and don't put yourself under pressure. True happiness comes from finding balance and simplicity in one's life.
By setting an intention for the New Year that aligns with your values, you will find it easier to implement new positive habits into your routines with your dog. In doing so, you will set yourself up for success, and create more sustainable shifts in the health and well-being of both you and your dog!