It’s new year resolutions time.
The last three hundred and sixty-five days have passed in a blur.
You hear yourself saying, “After one last drink and the fireworks, I’m off and running on my new mission. And I mean it this time!”
The clock strikes twelve, people sing songs and kisses get kissed. You swear an oath on whatever means most to you at the time then you make yourself some grand promises.
You promise to lose weight, get fit, learn Spanish, run a marathon, bungee jump nude for charity, or whatever. It’s going to be an awesome year.
And then reality kicks in…
You couldn’t get into your gym car park in January but now in mid-March there are only tumbleweeds. You don’t want to be the only weakling in there, so you quit too. To be fair, three months was way better than last year.
All the joggers you nodded to and smiled at have disappeared like tears in the rain. You quit jogging too and inter your trainers in their “back of the wardrobe” tomb. Your knees breathe a quiet sigh of relief.
The rice crackers and trail-mix have morphed back into chocolate biscuits and doughnuts. Your exercise bike and rowing machine are now super-expensive clothes horses. Your Spanish DVD course collects dust on the top shelf with all your other good intentions.
Once again, your new year resolutions are like roadkill on the highway of your life.
Never mind, there’s always next year. Does this sound at all familiar? You’re not alone.
BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this, I have included one at the end of this article.
Why do we even try to make new year resolutions?
This is a super-interesting question. Why do we put ourselves through this?
Well, one key point is that some people who make new year resolutions do succeed in their efforts. They make their changes, and they get their desired results. We all want a piece of that action, don’t we?
Also, some dates have more perceived significance than others.
The calendar title of New Year’s Day itself is in fact an arbitrary line in the sand. It all depends on which historical figure designed or chose the calendar we’re using.
That said, the mid-winter point is symbolic of change and renewal as we pivot and move toward spring. It seems appropriate to us, powerful even, to piggyback on such auspicious dates.
Plus, it’s traditional. Habitual even. Our friends and families have always done it so, whether it works or not, it feels natural to do it ourselves.
We may also be drunk or in an otherwise altered mental state. Things often seem like a good idea at the time under these conditions. We do often mean it with all our heart and soul at that point.
Our family and friends are then only too happy to remind us of our solemn promises to.
We now also have video evidence to contend with. There’s no way to back out now.
Why do we struggle with new year resolutions?
How long is a piece of string?
The real reasons will be unique to us as unique individuals. There are several common and general statements which can be useful to bear in mind.
- We often make goals which we don’t have full control over.
- Our goals are often based on avoidance and/or they lack a strong purpose.
- We choose far too many goals
- We take an “all or nothing” approach.
- Few of us learn from our experiences.
I’m sure you could add a ton of reasons and blockers from your own life.
IMHO the activity of making new year resolutions is often the triumph of hope over common sense.
One obvious solution to the whole new year resolutions problem
Don’t make them at all. At least not on New Year’s Day. There’s no way you’ll fail to achieve your new year resolutions if you don’t make any in the first place.
If you still need and want to achieve something, it makes sense to choose a different date.
Why not make your “new year resolutions” on another auspicious date. You could choose your birthday, significant anniversary, springtime, summertime, or whatever else suits.
If this is your approach, then job done. I doff my cap to you. You have eliminated the whole new year resolutions issue at a stroke.
Of course, if you want to achieve anything, you still need to design and plan effective goals. You still need to do the hard yards but some of the self-inflicted pressure is off.
In the interests of full transparency, this is my preferred approach. I haven’t made new year resolutions for several years. This has helped my productivity and general happiness levels no end.
Still determined to make new year resolutions. Then make them better
Despite what I said earlier, if you do still want to go for it then I wish you well on your quest.
To give you a boost, here are 5 great tips designed to help you counteract the issues listed above.
Good goals are well-designed goals. Don’t wait until you’re “tired and emotional” on New Year’s Eve. Get smarter with your life design and self-development.
This year, take some time to plan and make way better and stickier new year resolutions.
Tip 1 – Do you control the goal?
This might seem obvious but, in my experience at least, it is an all-too-common cause of goal death.
You must own the ability to achieve all aspects of the goal to complete it.
If your goal outcome depends on other people doing something you’ll struggle. If your goal outcome depends on external events happening, you will struggle.
For example, “I will get promoted in my job this year.” This goal will depend on many factors outside of your control such as vacancies, interviews, your boss, etc…
A better statement of intent would be, “I will work hard to give myself every chance of winning a promotion.” This is controllable and enables good opportunity seizure when it arises.
Tip 2 – Make your new year resolutions positive & purpose driven
There are many ways to examine the complex topic of motivation.
I’ll offer two ideas here which work well in combination. They have a big impact on your goal setting approach and ultimate success.
Towards and away from preferences
You can prefer gaining positive outcomes or avoiding negative outcomes. I’ll use the terms “towards” and “away from” preference here.
If you have a strong “away from” preference, you will often state outcomes as something you don’t want.
You will often get off to a great start with your goal by taking this approach. Your desire to avoid the thing in question is high.
The problem is that, as you move further away from it. your energy and interest wanes. You can run out of steam. Your good intentions fizzle out and disappear. Another of your new year resolutions bites the dust.
Try phrasing the goal in the positive so you use your willpower to get started well. As you get nearer the intended outcome, your motivation will increase. You might achieve this goal.
Purpose driven outcomes
Purpose is your “why” in any given situation. For example, if you say, “I am doing this because … ” you are stating a purpose.
The stronger this “because” is for you the more chance you have of staying motivated to completion.
Some examples might help
Here’s one version of a goal. “I want to lose at least two stone in weight so people see me in a better light.”
Here is another version. “I want to get a lot healthier to be able to play sports with my children and be there for them when they grow up.” IMO the second one is much more likely to see success as it has a positive framing and a very strong purpose driving it.
Tip 3 – Less is more and one is best
One of the classic mistakes when making new year resolutions is setting too many of them. This may be a “throw enough mud and some of it will stick” approach but, as a strategy, it has serious flaws.
At any given time, we have limited resources at our disposal. We need to apply those resources where they will give us the most benefit.
Reducing the number of new year resolutions you make allows you to put more effort into each goal. Makes sense, right?
It makes even more sense to choose only one very purposeful and positive new year resolution. You can then put all your available resources into it. This offers you your best shot at completion.
If you finish it early make sure you celebrate your success. Now you can either relax or choose another goal to focus on. Make it a marathon and not a sprint.
Tip 4 – Think process rather than target
Target-based goals are popular and can be easy to state and measure. Setting a specific target always seems like a good idea when setting goals. Indeed, it can be a very useful approach for short-term, task-based elements which are part of a larger goal. Check out the concept of SMART goals.
In my experience, the problematic issue with targets is their binary nature. You either hit them or you don’t. It’s an “all-or-nothing” approach.
Even if you set a range for success, it still means anything less than the lower limit is a failure. For example, losing between 15 to 25kg of weight in 12 months still has a 15kg target. You don’t hit this target, then you have failed your goal.
A more sustainable approach is to state a process-based goal. This states what actions or activities you will undertake on an ongoing basis. Your upgraded abilities, continual improvement or sustained level will be your success measures.
You can also combine the two approaches with great success. It’s all up to you and your needs but thinking “process” is the key here.
Here is a complete process-based goal statement. “I want to be able to play sports with my kids and be there for them when they grow up. I will get healthier and fitter by drinking less, eating better food and regular jogging.”
Here is a longer hybrid version. “I want to be able to play sports with my kids and be there for them when they grow up. This year I will get healthier and fitter by doing the following:
- Reducing my weekly alcohol consumption
- Eating at least two salads a week
- Jogging an average of 3 miles per week.”
Tip 5 – Learn from the past
Having worked with many people over the years, I’ve noticed many interesting commonalities.
One key thing many people don’t do enough of is reflect on and review past events. Thus, they condemn themselves to repeat past mistakes. Sometimes many times.
We often create our new year resolutions with great enthusiasm and solemn promises. If we don’t put much care into this, we are likely to see them fall by the wayside. We then shrug and put it down to experience or, far worse, as being “one of those things.”
We also fail to examine any successes for patterns and clues.
You may not feel very inclined to examine your failures or successes like a pathologist. But here’s the thing, you should.
Ask yourself some searching questions and be honest with yourself about the answers. It can make a world of difference.
What went well? What went wrong? Where could I make changes? How well did I plan? How well did I use resources? Ask yourself any question which will give you some valuable information. Seek honest and candid feedback from trusted friends, family, or colleagues. Listen to it well and act on it if appropriate.
Make a note of all your questions, answers and feedback and use your notes to inform you in your future goal design. Do these things and your goal success rate will increase.
Over to you
These tips apply to any form goal setting by the way. Make it easy to do the right thing by automating and systematising your workflows whenever you can.
Make your self-development your number one priority. I often refer to it as life-design or life-engineering. I do this with good reason.
Take total ownership of your life and how you live it. You can’t always control the events which happen to you, but you can always control your responses.
If you are reading this whilst getting ready for a new year party, I hope you enjoy the event. Have an excellent New Year.
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PPS Here is the audio version of this article if you would prefer to listen.