As the new year quickly approaches, many of us are preparing for the same old, tired resolutions as every year before. Most of us probably want to lose weight, quit smoking or drinking <insert applicable vice here>, pay off debt, save for something special, or accomplish some illusive goal we’ve had our eye on. Here’s the thing: That whole “New Year New You” thing doesn’t work. We don’t magically become different people because we threw away last year’s calendar and hung up a new one.
We’ve all been through the process of setting a resolution, starting strong with changes on January 1st, and returning to business as usual by the middle of February. No matter how well intended, our plans for change often do not lead to the new lifestyle we seek. We find all the excuses we need not to follow through with the commitment that seemed like such a great idea in December.
Why is it so difficult to follow through on our New Year’s resolutions?
Usually, that thing we want to change is something we spent a long time enjoying. Our habits, routines, and patterns don’t just happen overnight. Just as it takes a long time to learn and reinforce our “bad” habits, it takes time to unlearn them, and replace them with “better” habits. When we make that resolution to change on a dime, and don’t find immediate success, we may become frustrated, throw our hands in the air, and pick up that cigarette, glass of wine, or donut, or whatever our thing is. Sometimes, gradual change through a series of carefully calculated baby steps is more realistic and attainable.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. Just making the resolution is not enough. If we want to make a change, or accomplish a goal, we need a plan. We need to know what steps to take to get where we want to go. This might mean reading up on different eating plans, researching the different smoking cessation programs, or learning about new investment options. We may need to break our big goals into smaller steps that feel manageable. We need a timeline, and benchmarks, and ways to measure our success along the way. And, dammit, we need some little rewards built into our plan to celebrate our progress, and our continued commitment to our goal. Like, if I get my office cleaned and organized, I can go to the used book store and shop until my little heart is content. (I do not recommend rewards that are counterproductive to your long term goal, like food rewards for weight loss or spending sprees for debt reduction.)
Many times, our resolutions are things we intend to accomplish all by ourselves, so we plan to go it alone. When challenges come, and they will, we need the support of our friends and family to keep us going. Sometimes, we need advice from professionals, mentors, or experts. Whatever our intended change, it will feel easier if we assemble a team to keep us going. This might mean picking a workout buddy so those long nights in the gym don’t feel so lonely, choosing a meal plan that the whole family can live with, or setting up accountability check-ins with a friend. This might also look like hiring a financial advisor, attending a workshop to sharpen a skill, or finding a group or class to join.
Resolutions aren’t always authentic. Sometimes, we make resolutions to change the things we think we “should” change. Maybe, we decide to change for a parent or a partner. Maybe, we feel pressure from a specific person in our life, or from society, the media, or another external force. Maybe, we’re getting drug along on our partner’s resolution, or making a resolution with a friend that we are less passionate about than they are. Here’s the deal: You have to want to make the change for you. It has to be your commitment to do something to improve your health, quality of life, financial security, or sense of life satisfaction. No amount of prodding from our loved ones is going to motivate us to change. Our motivation must come from within.
Resolutions are typically negatively focused. We want to quit something. We don’t want to be overweight. We don’t like something about ourselves, or our situations, so we decide to change it. Shifting to a positive focus can help us become more successful in meeting our goals. Instead of beating ourselves up with propaganda from diet culture, “earning our meals” in the gym, and otherwise starving and beating ourselves into shape, what if we just make choices each day that support our health? Instead of a list of forbidden foods, what if we focus on the foods we know make our bodies healthy and strong? Instead of workouts we dread, why not find ways to build physical activity into our days in ways that we look forward to? Instead of cold turkey, white knuckle, giving up that thing we’re addicted to, why not start by setting some limits and gradually working toward quitting for good? Focusing on the benefits of the change, and ways to do it that feel nice will always yield better results that trying to force ourselves to give up what we love and do stuff we hate.
Finally, big changes happen in little steps we take every day. If we want to make changes that last, we have to build routines that support them. This takes time, patience, consistency and commitment. Diving into something this January full force is great, unless we’re burned out with it by March and go back to our old habits. If we want to see real results this time next year, we have to plan little steps we can make each day, to meet our realistic short term goals we’ve set, that will eventually lead us to the big goal we desire. Yes, this likely means making some sacrifices, forgoing some short-term pleasures, and maybe even walking away from some things we enjoy. But, if we focus on the satisfaction we will feel by accomplishing that big thing we want to do, the short-term sacrifices are worth it.
2019 is our year to revolutionize the resolution by replacing our empty wishes with real life action plans. If we can take our big dreams, break them into small, reachable goals, and commit to baby steps, in the form of little changes to our daily routine- there is literally nothing we cannot do- especially with the support of a few good friends. Shifting our focus away from the things we do not want, and toward the end result we desire will help ensure our success. Your best life is right on the other side of your comfort zone. This is the year to go get it.