A brand new year is here – time to embrace lofty ideas and make those big dreams come true, right?
There’s a lot of talk about New Year’s resolutions during January, but let’s face the fact that most of us start out with enthusiasm and energy that slowly fizzles, and by Valentine’s Day we’ve mostly forgotten what we set out to do. A study at the University of Scranton confirms that while 40% of Americans formulate New Year’s resolutions, as little as 8% actually follow through on them for more than a month or two. This statistic is somewhat shocking, given the collective American ideals of self-improvement and empowerment. Why do we give up on resolutions so quickly, and how can we increase our chances for success?
First, let’s look at what a resolution entails. The very word “resolution” has a negative implication. Resolve invokes the grit and determination to muscle our way through a task or a mission that we really don’t want to perform. We may decide to shed some pounds because we know it’s better for our health, but it’s not going to be an enjoyable process. So we buy a gym membership, set the impossible expectation of working out five days a week then pummel our egos mercilessly when we fail during the first month. A companion resolution to change our eating habits has us tossing out the frozen pizzas in favor of spiralized veggie “pasta” and no garlic bread. Suddenly life is no fun and we are physically and mentally exhausted all the time. It’s no wonder those resolutions get dropped like a hot potato (that would be a plain potato with no butter or sour cream!)
A Better Way
How can we avoid the resolution trap and set ourselves up for success?
One way is to set goals. Goals (as opposed to resolutions) include incremental, measurable steps. Goals involve a series of small milestones that eventually add up to a much larger achievement.
To be attainable, a goal has to be realistic. If you only see the interior of your gym a few times a year but you resolve to begin exercising every day before work, you are setting yourself up for failure. You may be successful for the first week, but once the muscle soreness sets in it’s likely you’ll succumb to the temptation to sleep in and skip the gym “just this once”. Before you know it, you are back to your pre-resolution ways. Why? Because the sudden change of routine is too big a shift in your lifestyle. For the new activity to become a sustainable habit you need to start small, perhaps with two workouts per week. Give your mind and your body time to get in sync with this new level of activity.
Set No More Than 3 Goals
Enthusiasm is a beautiful thing, but if you take on too many goals at once you dilute the chances for success. Instead, focus on the things you most want to improve and give those items your full attention. Outline clear action steps and set a timeline. By limiting the number of goals, your chances of following through improve significantly. As you begin to experience success your self-confidence increases and instead of losing steam you are more likely to maintain enthusiasm.
Understand Your Motivation
Do you want to shed ten pounds because you want to feel great, or because your kid brother compared you to the Pillsbury Dough Boy? Setting a goal based on others’ expectations is generally not sufficient motivation to propel you to the finish line. The sting of an insult is short-lived in comparison to your soul deep desire, and it is that desire that continually refreshes your energy and inspires you to stick with the plan. Check in with yourself before committing – be honest about your motivation. If your goal is a response to someone else’s expectation, choose a different goal.
Provide the Proper Environment for Success
Achieving goals does not happen by luck, and it’s also not about sheer willpower. One of your best strategies is to set yourself up to succeed. As a fallible human, it’s a certainty that at some point you will slip on the path to achieving your goal. Did you eat the entire bag of chocolate left over from the holidays? Instead of bashing yourself for the slip, allow yourself to savor the pleasure of the moment, be grateful for the unexpected treat, and promptly clean all other temptations out of your pantry! Be understanding, but don’t be foolish. Removing potential pitfalls eliminates that moment of doubt when you have to make a choice between good and evil. Paying attention to your environment reduces the struggle.
Waiting for the “right time” is an excuse. If you are serious about achieving a goal, begin taking steps TODAY to make it happen. You may only be able to do something small, like choosing a salad instead of a cheeseburger, but any step you take is a step in the right direction. Allow each tiny win to count, because eventually they add up to victory. The positive energy you create each time you move toward your goal will carry you through to the next step, and you will feel both capable and proud moving forward.
Summing It Up
Don’t forget that goal setting is supposed to feel good. Once you begin working toward a specific objective you might find that it’s not what you intended, so feel free to tweak it as necessary. The ultimate purpose of goal setting is to change habits and behaviors so that you feel better about yourself. You are writing the playbook, so modify any strategies that aren’t working. The process may not be easy, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Identify, plan, and reach for your goals. Make this a powerful new year.