It is the time of the year again to set New Year’s resolutions. Or is it? Here’s 5 steps that will make you to re-think the value of a resolution.
Step 1: Don’t set New Year’s resolutions
Let’s be honest here. New Year’s resolutions don’t work.
How many times have you promised yourself to eat better, spend less, exercise more? You have started off your New Year and new life with a long list of resolutions and a fair amount of good intentions, only to find yourself two weeks (or even just two days) later following the same bad habits as before?
It feels pretty disempowering doesn’t it? I have been there too, countless times.
New Year’s resolutions don’t work because
They are vague and don’t state exactly what you commit to doing, and by when
There are too many things to change at once, which creates an overwhelming and stressful life that is impossible to keep up
They are based on aspiring towards an external ideal that isn’t motivating enough in the long run
Now, I’m not saying at all that resolutions are bad. On the contrary, I am a strong advocate for having a vision for yourself and planning the future. So, what is the better way then?
Grant Freeland quotes the idea of behavioral economics in Forbes, saying that “If you want a certain outcome you need to nudge yourself toward behaviors that will lead to that outcome and away from behaviors that might lead you to stray from that outcome”.
Indeed, it is the daily behaviors and habits, that create the life you are living. They are strong drivers of change and for that, need to be taken seriously. That’s why vague resolutions don’t work. There needs to be a stronger tool.
Ok, so, what to do then?
Instead of resolutions, set specific Goals and (this is important!) WRITE THEM DOWN.
Goals differ from resolutions in that:
They are based on your values
They are concrete, simple and few
They have a deadline
They are measurable so you can monitor your progress
Here is an example:
A vague resolution: I will eat more healthy this year
A specific Goal: I will eat 500 grams of vegetables 5 days a week for 12 months
The point is to set goals that support your personal development and change in the long-term. The goals should be big enough to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, at least a little, at least for some of the time. After all, growth does only happen when we need to stretch ourself to something and somewhere that we are not used to, that’s new and scares us a little bit.
However, the process of achieving the goals must be in line with the stress level that you are able and willing to tolerate in your current life – the best of goals won’t bring you forward if you have to kill yourself with stress in achieving it.
Step 2: Know your Why
The Why for your goal needs to be as big as the Goal itself.
You need to know exactly why you set the particular goal for yourself. The reason you set your particular goal and commit to achieving it needs to come from your most important values instead of an external ideal of how you should live or look like.
Example of a weak why:
”I want to lose 10 kg so that I can wear my bikini next summer.”
Unless bikini fitness is a core value of yours, this goal comes from an external pressure to look a certain way so you can feel that you are good enough and pretty enough to do something you want to do.
Example on a strong why:
”I want to lose 10 kg because I want to live a long healthy life and have energy and enthusiasm to travel and spend time with my loved ones.
This why is based on values such as health, energy, well-being, traveling, and uplifting relationships.
If you don’t have a big enough why (often it comes down to the quality of your life, or the life itself), you won’t be able to keep yourself motivated during the rough times that – no matter how inspirational your goal is – will come whether you like it or not.
The why is also a good indicator and a checkpoint to assess the Goal itself: is the Goal actually important for YOU? Is it born out of your vision and your values, rather than from an external should? Think about it: who is setting the Goal: your true self that knows what you want to achieve and what is best for you, or the inner saboteur that always reminds you of things you should be better at to measure up with others.
Step 3: Make it simple and easy
In order to succeed, you must learn to prioritize. Your goal must be simple. It can – and should – be courageous and push you outside of your comfort zone for sure, but it shouldn’t make your life complicated and miserable.
You must let go of wanting to have it all. I mean, if you have a goal to lose 10kg and you have a life full of work, family commitments and all that – losing the 10kg should be the only goal you will concentrate on. You can’t do it if you commit to knitting shirts to all your relatives, learning to play the piano professionally, and taking care of your sick neighbor all at the same time.
There simply won’t be enough time and energy to do all that. You will have to prioritize, and prioritize hard.
That goes with the goal itself. Most likely it will not be necessary to do a hundred different things to achieve your Goal. But there will be some essential habits that you will need to start, some things you will need to let go of. Make a list of things you think you need to do and stop doing, and then evaluate what 20 % of the things is likely to bring you the 80 % of results and concentrate your work on that (For the 80/20 -rule, see i.e. the article by Brian Tracy). Remember, when you make it simple enough, you set yourself up for success in achieving it.
Example of a complicated and stressful goal:
For increasing my health, I will start going to the gym 5 times a week, take yoga classes 3 times a week, do abs and push-ups every morning before I leave for work, walk 10 000 steps every day, and run 10km every Sunday.
Example of a simple and easy goal:
For increasing my health, I will go to the gym 2 times a week, take one yoga class per week, and see to it that I get enough sleep every night.
Start easy enough with the 20% and build it up along the way as you root down your new habits and have capacity to take on a new challenge.
Step 4: Commit to an action plan
Are you ready to take 100 % responsibility of your life and of achieving your Goal?
If not, go back and see if your Goal and your Why are powerful and meaningful enough.
You need to fully commit to achieving your Goal – otherwise your Goal is nothing more than a wish that you hope will someday come true. When you commit to your Goal, you commit to your values, your well-being, your development and your inspiring future. In the end, you commit to yourself.
The first step is to make sure you share your goals and plans with one or more people. I know this is likely to sound intimidating but this way you not only put pressure on yourself to achieving them, but also make the goal into a real, more concrete thing and not just something you ponder inside your own mind. Find a person that can hold you accountable for the Goal and agree on a structure where you will regularly check in with the person to report on the progress you have made.
The second step is to turn your Goal into a specific action plan.
What do you need to do (and equally important, what you need not to do) every month, every week, every day to reach that goal
Make a monthly, weekly and daily TO DO list of the things you will do to bring you to your Goal. The daily TO DO list should never have more than 3 items on it, otherwise you have set a Goal that is not following the standard of simple and easy
Make sure you accomplish your TO DO list every day – this is where the commitment really comes into play. Consistent work is the only way to make progress and finally, achieve the Goal
Regularly report your successes to the person to whom you have set the accountability with
Know what is at steak if you don’t reach your Goal. What will your life look like in 5 or 10 years if you let yourself talk yourself out of the commitment? What will the cost be for you, your future, your relationships, your financial situation, your health?
Now, the rough times will come sooner or later – or sooner and later. But as you are committed to your Goal, you will come through the tough times as a winner. You must decide that you will work on the Goal even when you don’t feel like it, when you are too busy, when your mom comes over, and when there’s a new season of Modern Family on Netflix.
You cannot let yourself talk yourself out of your commitment. Again – you have set the Goal with your own future, well-being and values in mind and achieving that Goal must be a priority no matter what happens around you or what fears or excuses might come up along the way.
Step 5: Review and celebrate
Never quit when you start telling yourself all that negative stuff why you shouldn’t be working towards the Goal after all. Don’t let yourself sabotage you out of it.
Instead, make a plan to monitor the goal and the results that you are getting in specific review sessions. For example, if your goal takes 12 months, decide that you will sit down and contemplate every 3 months (put those dates in your calendar in advance so they will be there!). Commit to monitoring and adjusting your goals and methods only at these times – not every Friday when you feel tired and uninspired to do anything else than binge on social media.
Ask yourself, what is working, what might not be working, what you have already achieved and where you are headed? How are you feeling as you are going towards the goal? Are you taking care of yourself as you work with the goal? Could you do even more or are you pushing yourself too much?
Be willing to fail as well – not all the efforts you will make to achieve the Goal will bring results. That’s ok, it’s called learning. Be curious and try something else.
Make adjustments as needed to be on track in achieving your goal by your deadline, and to maintain your well-being in the process and renew your commitment for the goal until your next review session.
And finally, celebrate your wins!
Celebrate every day that you accomplished your TO DO list. Celebrate every week that you staid committed to working on your Goal. Celebrate every month for the achievements you have made. And celebrate after every review session on the progress you have made so far. It is important to be proud of the work you have achieved although it might not be perfect. You are making progress all the time and going towards what is important to you. When you are kind and supportive on yourself, you motivate yourself to keep on the good work.
Happy and Inspiring New Year!