Many people make New Year’s resolutions – I do it myself some years.
They’re usually made with the best of intentions, with the hopes of creating some level of self-improvement. They also usually start off like gangbusters and then fall by the wayside by the start of February.
Why does that happen?
For starters, resolutions are often poorly planned. People rarely think of them seriously – or at all – until very close to the turn of the year. Sometimes, they don’t even think about it until after the calendar flips.
Another problem is that the focus is on a very specific end result that sets up failure even in the face of success. “I’m going to lose fifty pounds this year” sounds impressive, as does “I’m going to pay off all of my credit cards this year.” The problem is that even if you lost 40 pounds this year or you paid off all but one credit card, you’re still going to “fail” in terms of your goal.
Also, “big” goals can be inspiring, but they also make it easy to just say “it’s impossible” and give up on it once you blow through that initial rush of effort. Speaking of which…
A third problem is overdoing it early on. You’ve decided to exercise four times a week. You hit the gym on January 2nd like a ton of other people and you do four miles on the treadmill. You feel pretty good, but a little bit worn out because you went from essentially doing nothing to walking/jogging four miles. You wake up the next day and your legs feel like lead, you have foot blisters. You’re miserable. You push yourself to go a few more times, but you begin to associate those gym trips with misery and before long, you’ve written off the goal.
Another example: you’ve decided to improve your diet, so the first three days you eat like a raw vegan. On the fourth day, you’re practically starving, so you decide to “cheat” a little and have a slice of pizza. That barely does anything at all to your pent-up hunger and a day or two later, you’re eating like you’re ravenous. See you later, diet!
Another example: you decide to cut down on your unnecessary expenses. You don’t splurge for a week, but then a friend calls you up to go do something fun that you wouldn’t have thought twice about before. You decide you’ve been “good” and go do it because it’s “social” and it’s not really “spending money.” At the end of the month, you realize you’ve spent almost as much as you did in December, so you decide it’s all foolishness and give up.
This type of pattern repeats itself over and over again with all kinds of goals.
So, how do you build a New Year’s resolution that actually works?
First, know yourself. No matter how much you believe in your goal, you’re not going to have drastically different behaviors or fitness level or anything after the year changes. Don’t choose a goal that would require you to exhibit a behavior for a year that you can’t even pull off for a few days in a row right now, because it’s not going to happen.
Second, set up a goal that allows you to succeed every day. Rather than saying, “I’m going to lose fifty pounds this year,” simply say that “I’m going to eat a ‘vegan before six’ diet each day this year” or “I’m going to put at least a quarter in a jar under the sink each day this year and live off of the rest of my income.” That way, the goal for success each day is really clear so you can judge your success or failure solely in the short term.
Third, set up a goal that’s easy to succeed at but puts you in a place to achieve more each day. Don’t make your daily goal something that you’re going to have trouble pulling off in a row of days. For example, if you’re not used to exercise, saying “I’m going to run three miles each day this year” is begging for failure. Instead, simply say “I’m going to stand on the treadmill and turn it on each day this year.” Why? Your goal really is to just go to the gym or the exercise room each day, because if you get yourself to that point, you’re likely to exercise at least a little bit.
For that “jar” goal I mentioned above, the simple act of going to that jar to put in money is the success, but in the act of doing so, you’re likely to want to put in as much money as you can each day because it feels like an even bigger win.
Finally, remind yourself of that goal. I like sending text reminders to myself at roughly the time of day where I’m most likely to do it. A text reminder to exercise at a time that’s right near my first morning “eye strain prevention” break can really push me to go exercise, for example.
Take what you want from the year. Break it down into a daily goal. Make that goal really easy to achieve. Make that goal one that puts you in a place to do even more so it feels like a “big win” each day. Remind yourself of that goal so that it’s right in your mind.
Why start now? Thinking through a goal like this takes thought. You have to think about where you’re at. You have to think about what you really want. You have to devise a goal that really works. Most importantly, you need to have whatever support you need for that goal in place before it starts so that you can step right into it.
Now’s the time to start planning.