By: Megan McDonald
Resolutions: a lot of us have made them. A lot of us have given up on them. A study by the University of Scranton reports that only 8% of people who make a New Year’s Resolution actually achieve it. That’s crazy! We are almost guaranteed to fail, and yet we keep resolving each January! This makes me wonder why we keep trying. What is it about a new year that makes us crave change, and how can we turn that craving into real results? I want to get you thinking about your current motivations and also give you some useful tips that might help you with lasting change.
So first of all, let’s examine why you might think you need to make changes in the first place. If you made a resolution, this year or even wrote out a list of 2020 goals, what was it that inspired you to do this? Did your neighbor or your favorite “insta-inspiration” make you feel like you were somehow not measuring up? Are you seeking change so that your life can be like someone else’s life? (Or maybe your perception of their life?) Sometimes it seems that people are able to identify areas in their life that could use some growth or improvement, but that’s as far as they get….the observation. Just noticing that something needs changed does not change it. I might notice that my laundry has piled up and I have no clean clothes, but unless I throw that pile in the washing machine, the situation will not change. In fact, it will get worse! Resolution means, “a firm decision to do something or not to do something.” FIRM. That’s a strong word. I’m not sure this really describes the attitude that most folks bring to this practice.
I know a lot of people who have given up on making resolutions. I understand the sentiment. These people know that the odds are against them. So how then do we go about making real changes in those areas that we want to improve? How do you set yourself up for success?
Here are some tips for figuring out realistic resolutions and how to achieve them.
Be honest with yourself about your current reality
What does your life look like in this current season? Maybe you have small children. Maybe you work full-time with an erratic schedule (shout out to birth workers!). Perhaps you are committed to something almost every night of the week. If you set a goal that does not fit into your current reality, you are most definitely not going to achieve it. If your goal is to read 20 books a month, you might have to make some adjustments to your busy schedule before this can become a reality. Or if you are really crafty, you might sneak into your toddler’s room and grab a stack of Dr. Seuss books on January 31st just to give yourself a sense of accomplishment.
The point is, you have to be able to recognize your limitations in order to approach your goals in a realistic way. This doesn’t mean that you cannot challenge yourself to do something that requires discipline. It just means that if you really want to stick to something, you have to have the time and resources to make it a reality.
Start with the end in mind, but focus on one step at a time
Once you have identified your goal, you have to figure out how you will achieve it. Is your goal something that will take years to accomplish? Once you have an idea about the timeline, think of ways to break the goal down. If there are changes that need to be made to reach the goal, maybe you can spread them out over time. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon in November, think through the timeline. Will you be able to adjust your schedule leading up to the race to allow for the training that needs to happen? If your coworker is going to be out on maternity leave and you will be taking on extra work in October, then this might not be a realistic timeline. If the timeline does seem to work, break it down into months, weeks, and days to figure out an achievable plan.
It takes about 1 minute to come up with a goal or to think about a list of changes you would like to make in your life, but research tells us that it takes a lot longer for those changes to become habits. A habit only becomes a habit after lots of repetition. Your brain will adapt to the new change more quickly if you implement the change in the same way, at the same time, every day. If the change you are making is something that happens once or twice a week, this might take longer to become a habit. Another thing that will help you as you try to develop new habits is simplicity. According to Dr. Wendy Wood, author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick, the best way to turn something into a habit, is to make it as easily as possible. Our brains prefer to outsource whenever possible. Autopilot feels so good to our brains. Whenever possible, set yourself up to succeed. Lay your yoga mat out next to your bed so that your morning stretches happen without any extra hassle. If you’re trying to swap out your coffee for tea, you could set out your mug and tea bag next to your tea pot as a reminder and move the coffee pot to a hard to reach cabinet.
Create a framework or structure in your life that lends itself to working on and achieving goals
If you’ve identified areas in your life where you would like to see growth or change, or if you have goals that you would like to achieve, it is important to set up a structure or framework in your life that allows time for introspection, planning and intentionality. Maybe one of your first goals for the year could be to add mindfulness to your daily routine.This might mean setting aside a time of day to reconnect your mind to your body; to check in with yourself at a set time each day. Perhaps a morning routine would be helpful for you. Dedicating that time to getting yourself ready for whatever the day holds. If you’re not a morning person, you might find that setting aside some time in the evening might be helpful to center yourself and make a plan for the next day. Even setting aside 30 minutes a week to plan for the week might be enough to get on top of your life. There are lots of ways to add structure to your life. I am not someone who plans down to the minute, but I have found that adding a bit of intentionality to my day helps me feel some control over my day rather than being controlled by my day.
I hope these tips are helpful to you as you continue to work on your New Year’s Resolution. Or if you are part of the other 92%, it might help you as you reevaluate and prepare to make realistic and achievable goals for this new decade.