Make resolutions you can keep

With New Year’s Day arriving, many of us take the time to make resolutions for the next year. But resolutions often seem easier to make than to keep – and at times we can find ourselves making the same ones over and over. Here are some tips for making resolutions you can keep.

Commit to reality
First, be realistic. While it might be easy to joke about making realistic New Year’s resolutions – 1. I resolve to eat more chocolate than is good for me – knowing yourself and what your life is really like is probably the most important step in making any kind of change.

If you’ve resolved every year to send more handwritten letters and every year the correspondance just piles up, you may want to think about resolving to make more phone calls, or to track down people’s email addresses.  Take the time to think about what the core issue really is. Is it about the fancy cards, or just about people knowing that you think of them and care about them?

Access your strengths and resources
Too often when we make resolutions we are apt to turn our most critical eye on ourselves.  That sets us up for failure.&160 Remember that no matter what changes you want to make in your life, you are okay just as you are.  And when you choose to make a change you have all your positive qualities to bring to bear on whatever it is you want to change.

For example, someone who seems disorganized may also be very flexible and creative. Using that flexibility and creativity to come up with a way to stay on top of chores and bills makes that change possible.

Instead of making a negative resolution like “don’t be lazy” consider the strengths you have to bring to bear on a problem and resolve to use those – “find a calendar I love enough to look at every day.” 

Also don’t hesitate to get your community involved.  If you want to get more exercise, chances are that you know people who feel the same way.  See if you can start an informal walking group, or train for a charity event.  Sometimes it’s a real strength to know that you need camraderie (or competition!) to motivate you personally.

If you are dealing with a problem that may be more difficult, such as dealing with an addiction or trying to resolve a deep-seated issue, look for professional and self-help resources.  Sometimes finding the help you need is the best way to use your time and energy rather than continually coming up against the same barriers.

Don’t overreach
Although 12 months seems like it would be long enough to address a lot of issues, creating real change in your life takes time and energy.  You are more likely to succeed if you pick one or two changes that you would like to make this year and focus on them rather than making a huge list and not being able to enjoy unqualified success at any particular one.

One way to approach this is to think of the change as a new habit. It takes between 30 and 60 days to create a new habit.  For those two months, it takes real effort to work to establish the newer, healthier habit.  After that it may become routine. 

Give yourself the time and space to really estabish one change so that it is automatic before you move on to the next.  If you make only one change this year but it sticks, that means that next year your energy is available to tackle the next adventure.

Specific steps towards success
“Lose weight.” “Don’t overspend.” “Keep in touch with friends and family.” “Eat better.” All these resolutions have something in common – they’re so vague as to be almost meaningless. When professional motivators discuss goal setting, they almost always recommend setting specific smaller goals on the way to meeting the large one.

Take your larger goal and work out the steps it takes to get there.  Then write those steps down as specific mini-goals, with timelines for each. The act of writing these steps down can be very empowering. Make sure they are positive goals – something that you will do, rather than something you will not do.

For some people it works to set a goal such as “put $20 in savings each week before spending” or “lose 2 lbs by January 25.”  For others it may be specific daily changes like “call Cheryl on Tuesdays,” or “eat breakfast by 8 am each morning.”

It may help to start with one goal that helps clear the way for the next set.  If your plan is to lose weight, your first goal may be to throw out all the unhealthy food from your pantry. If your goal is to exercise your first step might be to make an appointment with a personal trainer. But be careful: don’t check a mini-goal off your to-do list until you know what the next step is. It’s all too easy to join the gym and then not actually go there!

Next page: Checking in, and defining success

Check in with yourself
One of the reasons people don’t keep resolutions is that they make them, and before they know it, it’s time to make them again.  Once you’ve armed yourself with your specific, written goals, put those target dates right on your calendar. A commitment to yourself is just as important as that community event.

Consider setting aside a few hours every three months to review your goals, celebrate your successes, and make any changes you need to make to keep meeting them.  This can be a real chance to romance yourself – go out for a walk in a favourite spot or treat yourself to coffee at a cafe with comfortable chairs. You are most definitely worth the time!

If it’s not working, what then?
If you find that you can’t meet your resolutions it may be time to re-examine them.  Some common reasons for failure include:

  • Not knowing why: sometimes we make goals because we think we should, like staying in touch with old friends. But if you don’t have an underlying reason for why getting in touch with old friends will be a positive addition to your life, you may not find much reason for sticking with it.
  • Conflicting goals or values: if you resolve to save money and to travel more, your goals may not be compatible.  Or if you’ve resolved to learn a new skill but you feel that you really have to volunteer more hours to a particular cause. In this case, see if you can resolve the conflict – which is really the more important for you?
  • More planning than action, or more action than planning: sometimes we get stuck at the planning phase. If you find yourself reading all about plants but never actually in the garden, it may be time just to take the plunge and dig in. Perfectionism can really get in your way, so if you find you can never get around to it because you can’t do it “right” consider just doing it anyway.  On the other hand if you rushed in to something and it didn’t work, take a step back and see if a little forethought might help you get past the roadblock.
  • Life happens: sometimes you set a goal and something else happens – the roof needs a repair, or there’s a family crisis.  In this case don’t forget your goals, but be prepared to modify them.  Go a little slower. Life’s not perfect – and you don’t have to be!

And when you’ve done it?
Don’t forget to celebrate when you do complete a resolution.  You may be on to the next goal, but you deserve to honour the achievement you’ve accomplished.  In public or private, take some time to pat yourself on the back.