It’s no secret that the majority of New Year’s resolutions people set this week will fail before February. We’ve all been there. You make a list of ways you’re going to change, you believe with all your heart that this year is your year, but three weeks later you’re back to your old ways and feeling defeated.
Why does this happen? Are we all just hopeless, disciplineless, and doomed?
Nah. We just need a little more practice at setting strong goals. If you want your resolution — or any goal — to stick this year, use these tips to avoid the February fail.
How many times have you written a resolution along the lines of “Do x more”? Exercise more. Meditate more. Write more.
More than what?
When a resolution is ambiguous, it is much more likely to be abandoned. We want to feel a sense of accomplishment when we think about our goals, not wonder if we’re doing enough. The best resolutions include details that make it obvious whether or not you’re on target.
Rephrase your resolutions with clear specifications: the more detail, the better. At a minimum, specify how long and how often. To make it even stickier, say precisely when. “I will meditate for 30 minutes 3 times a week” is a good resolution, “I will meditate for 30 minutes in the morning every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday” is even better.
A major stumbling block for many would-be resolutions is going too big too soon. If you don’t exercise at all now, your resolution to put in elaborate 2-hour workouts six days a week is already doomed. The first day your willpower waivers, and it will, that workout is getting skipped. However, 20 minutes on the treadmill three times a week could be the start of a healthy new habit.
The bigger the change, the more force of will it takes to keep going and the more likely you’ll abandon it when the going gets rough. Small changes don’t require massive amounts of gusto to maintain. Make your targets as small as they need to be for there to be no excuse not to do them. You can always up the ante later once the habit is in place.
Prioritize & Focus
When I think about all the grand things I hope to do with my life, I can easily come up with a list of hundreds of goals, any of which could be part of a resolution. The catch? If I try to go after them all at once, it’s unlikely I’ll accomplish a single one.
I can do anything, but I can’t do everything. Same with you.
If you write a list of 25 things you need to change about yourself starting January 1st, you’re going start feeling overwhelmed by January 2nd. If you focus on one or two changes you deeply care about, you’ll have built them into habits by spring.
What’s the biggest, most important item on your list? Pick a resolution that moves you toward it, the rest can wait.
Revisit & Revise
Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make with any goal or resolution: treating it as set in stone rather than an evolving process. There’s no honor in hanging onto a practice that has stopped making sense for your life, whether it’s because your priorities have changed or your needs have.
Every few months, take a step back and see how that resolution is going. Is it still serving its purpose? How can you adjust it to keep moving forward?
Maybe your resolution has turned into a routine part of your life — this gives you an opportunity to make the targets more challenging or to let the habit continue and shift your focus to the next goal.
Or maybe you’re missing your targets regularly. What changes can you make so that you can start hitting them again? Did you start too big? Would scaling down keep you moving in the right direction? If your options are making it easier or quitting, make it easier.
Or it’s possible that now that you’re on this path, you’ve realized that you don’t want to be. You’re not enjoying learning the guitar, that painting class was a bust, you hate tweeting every day. That’s ok. If you’ve given something a fair shot and have decided it’s not for you, set a new goal. Resolution or not, life is too short to keep chasing activities that aren’t enriching your time on this planet.
Give Yourself a Break
Even if you follow every single one of these pointers to the T and have the most perfectly crafted resolution ever, there will come a day when you will not hit your target. THAT IS OK. You might even have a rough patch where you miss your goals for a week or a month. THAT’S OK TOO.
Life happens. Sh*t happens. Our best-laid plans get pushed out of the way for emergencies and opportunities and everything in between. Sometimes we have to temporarily set our goals to the side while we deal with something else. The key is that it’s temporary.
The only way to truly fail at something is to stop trying. Didn’t meditate last week? Whatever, start again tomorrow. Missed a few days of writing? Cool, start again tomorrow. You can spend your time beating yourself up, or you can spend it getting back on track.
Best Year Ever
With a few minor shifts, your this year’s resolutions can be powerful tools for change that you’ll still be rocking in February. Remember:
- Be specific with measurable targets
- Start small
- Focus on your priorities
- Revise as needed
- Be kind to yourself
Now you’re ready to write some amazing New Year’s resolutions and keep them!