Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. I think that any day of the year is a perfectly good one for reflecting on what you’re unhappy with and brainstorming how you can overcome whatever sort of obstacles may lie in the way of making changes.
However, I do recognize that many people use the start of the new year as a springboard to propel themselves towards positive changes. And making changes to help you live a more fulfilling and healthy life is something that I’m all for. However, very often when we set New Year’s resolutions, or goals in general, we don’t take into account the complexity and nuances of behavior change. For that very reason, there are a few things I’d like to suggest to you as you take some time to reflect on what you’d like to work towards in the new year so that you’re able to set a New Year’s resolution you can stick to
1. Set SMART resolutions
In order to set ourselves up for success, we need to be effective with setting a resolution. That is, we need to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal. This acronym stands for the following:
S = Specific
Avoid being vague about your New Year’s resolution. Instead, get as detailed as possible with what you’d like to achieve. An example of a vague or non-specific goal is “I will exercise more.” A specific goal is “I will attend the 9am yoga class on Tuesdays and go for a 30 minute walk on Mondays and Thursdays after work.”
M = Meaningful
Make sure your goal is important to you, that it’s connected with your values. Check out Tip #2 for more info on this.
A = Adaptive
What are some of the benefits of this goal? Is it going to make your life better? Tip #3 will help you clarify this.
R = Realistic
In consideration of the resources you have (time, energy, money, physical health, social support, etc.) is this goal actually realistic?
T = Time-framed
Set a time frame for when you’ll do the specific activities that will help you accomplish your goal. It’s even more helpful to break your larger goal into several smaller ones with a date to complete each one.
2. Connect Your Goal to Your Values
Very often we set goals based on external pressure, because of what others think or because it’s something we feel like we should do. I tell my clients that should is a dirty word.
In order to set ourselves up for success, we have to take the advice of Simon Sinek and “start with why.”
Why do you want to achieve this goal?
Which personal values is your goal connected to?
While goals are comparable to what we hope to achieve on our journey, values are the direction we’re moving in. A value is like heading East, whereas goals are the cities we’ll pass through as we travel in that direction. A goal can be checked off, while a value is a continual, never-ending process.
So what values are your New Year’s Resolutions connected to? Maybe the resolution of reading one book per month is connected to your values of growth and curiosity? A resolution of having one date night a week with your partner could be connected to your values of love and connection. It’s much more effective to remind yourself “I’m reading this book because it’s helping me to live my values of growth and curiosity” than “I’m reading this book because I have to.”
3. Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis
What are some of the ways that achieving this goal is going to improve your life? What are some of the challenges that you’ll face along the way? Try making a table and answering the questions like in the example below to reflect more on this:
After filling this out, ask yourself the following question:
“Will the benefits of working towards this resolution actually improve my life in more ways than it will take away from it?”
4. Brainstorm Ways to Overcome Challenges
Plan ahead to help you turn obstacles that may block your path into challenges that can be overcome. What resources do you have at your disposal to overcome some of the challenges you identified in tip #3? Imagine that your resolution is to meditate 3 mornings/week, but you’ve identified these 3 challenges:
- I’ll feel too tired or unmotivated to get out of bed
- It will be really hard to sit still for 10 minutes with my thoughts
- I will forget to do it
Here are 3 different ways you could tackle these challenges:
- Exchange BUT for AND. Instead of saying “I would meditate, BUT I’m tired,” try saying “I’m tired AND I’m going to get up and meditate.”
- Practice positive and encouraging self-talk with yourself and remember to focus on the small accomplishments.
- Ask a roommate or friend to check in with you. Or create a checklist on your phone where your record the days that you meditated.
As mentioned above, it’s important to make sure that the resolutions we set are realistic considering our resources. It’s also important to ensure that they’re sustainable. For example, a common New Year’s resolution is to start a diet. However, diets don’t work. So instead of trying to lose weight, work on setting a resolution to improve your relationship with food, weight, your body and exercise by learning more about Intuitive Eating.
5. Make Space for Slip-Ups
Very often people don’t stick with their New Year’s resolutions because they don’t do it perfectly. Maybe they sleep in and miss one day at the gym, or get sick and don’t attend the class they signed up for. Any long-lasting behavior change needs to make space for real life and all of the unexpected twists and turns it can take. It also needs to allow space for the non-linear way that behavioral change happens at times: 2 steps forward, 1 step back. It’s important to expect that you won’t follow your timeline perfectly and plan for ways to “get back on the horse” when this happens with some helpful mantras:
It’s progress, not perfection, that matters
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. –Confucius
Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out. –Robert Collier
So, now that you’ve got some extra information to help you set a New Year’s resolution you can stick to this upcoming year, share with us below what you’re planning to accomplish. Best of luck and have a great start to the new year!
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