There’s a good reason why many people ridicule the practice of setting New Year’s resolutions. The whole thing is surely fraught with failure.
C’mon now, we’ve all been there haven’t we? Declared with gusto the ways in which we’re going to be a changed person in the year to come, that we’re going to lose weight, stop smoking, get to the gym regularly, go on a diet, never eat junk food again, be outgoing and effervescent, learn a new skill – or whatever.
Motivation is high, fuelled by the grandiose vision of personal achievement, and confidence is swelled, aided by more than a little Dutch courage and egging on from friends. You feel invincible, unbreakable, ready to sprint at full throttle into your perfect future life with the ability to conquer all.
But… what happens next is the tragic and soul-destroying collapse of a dream.
You see, a resolution really only represents a decision someone makes. Having made a resolution and committed to it publicly, people then expect they can just make it happen.
In the cold hard light of January 1, we decide that actually today is probably not the best time to set out on our revolutionary journey. The burning flame of motivation that was there last night is now a pathetic twinkling ember. Confidence is diminished and obstacles are magnified. And there’s that big, wide, gaping chasm between you and your goal. That chasm, my friends, represents PREPARATION.
Imagine if Christopher Columbus, on resolving to go forth and discover new lands, jumped into the nearest row boat with nothing but an oar and his good intentions, and set out to meet the horizon. Good idea? Probably not.
Dos and Don’ts
So this time I invite you to change your strategy. Follow these simple Dos and Don’ts to get a different, and whole lot more positive, outcome this year.
- Don’t: frame your resolutions around guilt-induced negative reflections of all the things you did wrong in the previous year. (For example: “I’m fat, lazy and didn’t achieve much last year.”) Why? Because the inspiration to be amazing doesn’t come from feeling like crap.
Do: frame your resolutions around defining the person you want to become. (For example: “I’m going to be healthy, energetic and focused this year.”)
- Don’t: set goals that are vague and ambiguous (“I’m going to be a better person”) and try not to focus exclusively on goals based on a number (“I’m going to lose 20cm off my waist”; “I’m going to get my cholesterol under 5.5mmol”). Number-based goals (weight, BMI, etc) are fine as an outcome to work towards, but they tend to be long-term and slow to change. If you’re focusing only on the number, it’s easy to feel defeated if it’s slow to change or fluctuates up a little from time to time.
Do: set goals that are specific, measurable and action-oriented. Focus on what you’re going to DO that will have positive outcomes, like being fitter and healthier. (For example: “I’m going to be active for 30 minutes every day”; “I’m going to follow a healthy diet with the guidance of my health practitioner”; “I will do one exciting outdoor adventure every month”.) By breaking down the long-term outcome goals like weight and BMI into daily behaviour goals like walking and having a healthy lunch, you’re fully in control of your success and can experience a WIN every single day.
- Don’t: make it bigger than Ben Hur. There’s no need to make a resolution of epic proportions. Swim the English Channel? I think not. Why? Because the more unrealistic the goal, the more likely you are to fall off that wagon like Humpty Dumpty off the wall. SPLAT.
Do: keep your feet on the ground and set a reasonable and realistic resolution by considering what you’re actually willing and able to achieve, given the time, resources and competing demands you have.
- Don’t: think your current motivation is enough to get you to the end goal. In fact, don’t even count on it hanging around after January 3. Why? Because, as Michelle Bridges often says, motivation is like a bad boyfriend – it’s never there when you need it. Motivation is fickle and unreliable and will sell you out as soon as the first Mr Whippy van sets up shop on a hot summer’s day.
Do: create a proper plan. Enlist support (and lots of it), think through all the potential barriers and things that have stopped you in the past, come up with strategies, list your resources and strengths, break the journey down, track your progress and plan in some time for review and reflection. Do the work to reap the rewards.
- Don’t: give up. I know it’s easy to fall into the failure mindset at the first slip-up. But you know what? Things don’t always go to plan. Shit happens. Things aren’t going to be perfect. Get over it. The only real failure is when people give up and don’t try to learn anything from their experience. So put the word failure out of your mind. It’s not a contest.
Do: stick it out. Every single day you have an opportunity to be your best self. Every day you have the ability to make choices and engage in behaviours that will bring you closer to your vision, regardless of what happened yesterday. Remember that motivation is what gets you started, but habit is what gets you there.
Right now the year is still fresh, with no (or very few!) mistakes in it. So GO you good thing, take your newly focused positive resolutions and be amazing this year.
Vanessa is a new mum of two, speaker, writer, fitness enthusiast, psychologist and personal development coach, and clearly the owner of six heads to accommodate all those hats she wears.
Her passion is enabling people to become their best self, and surprising people with her down-to-earth humour. Because psychologists aren’t funny, apparently.