We know what you’re thinking: Here’s another article that’s going to give me the same old tips for making and keeping New Year’s resolutions.
But while we understand your skepticism, these 10 ideas help you figure out why resolutions often are unsuccessful. If you know that, then you can figure how to make them successful instead.
And I’ll give you a hint — failure has nothing to do with willpower or lack of effort. It has to do with things that you can likely and readily change in how you approach resolutions.
Set intentions, not “musts.”
Resolutions tend to come with a “should” or a “have to,” and “we rebel against these kinds of directives,” according to Nona Jordan, a coach who’s known as the “business yogini” and helps female entrepreneurs improve their business. Instead, she thinks of resolutions as intentions. “An intention is an aim — a direction in which we are moving. There is no set point or date by which to achieve.”
Connect with your “why.”
Ask yourself, “Why do you want what you want?” Jordan said. Again, if your answer includes a “should” or a “have to,” scrap the goal. “When we have an intention that is a deep desire and we can identify and stay connected to that WHY, it makes for meaningful and achievable resolutions that create happiness in our lives and the lives of those around us.“
Get out of your own way.
Just setting an intention isn’t enough if deep down you don’t think you can accomplish it in the first place, according to John Duffy, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism in Raising Teens and Tweens. He said, “Perhaps the biggest misconception is that a good intention can overcome lifelong habits of thought and behavior.”
Duffy’s “favorite writer, Wayne Dyer, suggests in The Power of Intention that positive change comes not from pushing through with determination and perseverance, but rather through getting out of your own way.” This means “clearing up any negative thought patterns we carry about ourselves, or our capacity for change,” Duffy said.
So how can you get out of your own way?
First, according to Duffy, it’s important to understand how negative thoughts “drive our beliefs and behaviors.” To do this, keep a journal of both your negative and positive thoughts throughout the day along with the behavior that followed. “We typically find that positive, internal ‘self-talk’ drives positive behavior, and that the opposite is true for negative self-talk,” he said.
Then, replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Negative thoughts are rarely accurate and only serve to sabotage us. Duffy helps his clients either to embrace positive thoughts or to “fake it ‘til they make it,” as he puts it.
He also suggested Dyer’s Excuses Begone! to help readers with changing their thoughts. If you’re still struggling, consider seeing a cognitive-behavioral therapist or life coach, Duffy said.
Think of a theme.
Every year Jordan creates a theme, or “a one- or two-word mantra that supports me in moving towards being more of the person I want to be.” She writes the theme down and puts it in a visible place — especially helpful during challenging times.
For 2010, Jordan’s theme was “Lean In,” which she discussed in a recent blog post. This signified “leaning into the good, the uncomfortable, and the scary. Revealing and being more authentically who I am meant to be in the world.”
Set goals that are in line with your values.
A “strong resolution with a solid chance for success bridges that gap between values and action,” according to Duffy. So first identify your core values, he said. (If you need help, you can find tools online.) Take your top five and use them to create a personal mission statement. Then set your New Year’s goals based on that statement.
An example: “To participate in enjoyable physical activities three times weekly in order to feel strong, boost my mood and improve my overall sense of health and wellbeing.”
People tend to approach New Year’s resolutions from a place of deprivation, restriction and punishment. The quintessential example is wanting to lose weight. People turn to diets or difficult-to-maintain intense exercise — both of which are the antithesis of lasting habits. (Plus, diets don’t work, and here, here and here is why.)
“If we want to feel healthier, maybe we’ll start moving our body in ways that feel good to us and paying attention to what foods make us feel energized and healthy,” Jordan said. This way, “we aren’t in deprivation and discipline mode, but our energy and action can align with our intention in a positive, supportive way,” she added.
Remember that your goals shouldn’t be “trying and uncomfortable, but exactly the way you want this part of your life to look and feel like,” Duffy said.
Check in with yourself.
Jordan has her clients set weekly intentions, which they assess at the end of each week. “Very compassionately look at what went wrong and celebrate successes. From that place of clarity, you can set intentions for the coming week,” she said. Don’t think you have the time? As Jordan said, we spend more hours planning a vacation than we do planning our actions.
Chop up each goal. Big goals are overwhelming, so sit down and consider the “ridiculously easy mini-steps” that you can take, Jordan said. Make sure they’re “reasonable and attainable,” Duffy said.
Pitch perfection. Too-high expectations paralyze people, ensuring that you’re too overwhelmed to start or maintain your goals. Jordan teaches her clients that we’re all “perfect in our imperfection.” She explained that, “In yoga, and in many other philosophical traditions, the belief is that we are innately perfect and our job is to ‘come home’ to that. Therefore, setting goals and taking action in that direction is about returning to and merging with our natural state of wholeness.”
To help you in overcoming perfectionistic tendencies, check out our articles on 10 steps to conquer perfectionism and five additional perfection-busting pointers.
Create a goal-friendly environment.
A common hurdle in accomplishing our goals is creating the settings and circumstances that cultivate them, according to Duffy, who also explained that “a resolution that results in real change requires a shift in priorities.” In other words, if you want to write the great American novel, make time in your day to write. Buy the supplies you need. Seek a quiet spot in your house. Get a babysitter for the allotted time so you’re better able to concentrate on creating.
New Year’s goals get a bad rap mostly because we set restrictive resolutions that don’t honor our values or ourselves. We set resolutions hastily, minutes before the ball drops, without considering what we truly want. This year, let the above tips help you create nourishing, positive and lasting goals.