This New Years, Forget the Big Resolutions
It’s time to forget everything you thought you knew about New Year’s resolutions.
Every year in the weeks leading up to January 1st, hundreds of articles are posted with headlines like “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Sticks” and “Make 2019 the Year You Keep Your Resolutions.” Every year it’s the same articles because every year the same old resolutions and resolution-thinking are encouraged. And, inevitably, almost all of these New Year’s resolutions will ultimately be abandoned within the first few weeks of the year.
And yet over the last several years, more and more articles have been written that challenge classic New Year’s resolutions and outline alternative methods of achieving your goals in the new year. I would love to see these types of articles take a deeper root in our collective psyche because, in the long run, it’s healthier and more sustainable to make changes slowly and allow ourselves to achieve incremental victories along the way.
So, what’s up with the resolution mentality that dooms most all New Year’s resolutions to failure?
The problem isn’t with a lack of motivation or good intention, but with the format. Examples of issues with resolutions include:
- The number of resolutions we make
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Scaring ourselves by building up the challenge of life changes
If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution, chances are you know that they simply don’t work well for making sustainable changes in our lives. Much like fad diets, the “all or nothing” thinking and the overwhelming commitment of traditional New Year’s resolutions lead to epic crashes in motivation when we slip and fall. This creates a perpetuating cycle that ultimately can’t be won.
Instead of setting yourself up for frustration, disappointment and feelings of failure, why not try something new?
I’m someone that has lived a life of all-or-nothing thinking and that loves to set giant goals that are generally completely unrealistic. I live for fast gains and pushing myself to the limit to get them, and realizing just how unhealthy it is for myself and those I love took a lot of great therapy to get to. I still think all-or-nothing thoughts, but I work hard to catch myself. I also have a pretty solid accountability buddy in my husband. He helps me be easy on myself as I focus on slow and steady progress towards goals.
Many lifestyle changes can be incredibly important for physical and mental health, as well as for relationships with loved ones and even our careers. This is where there is some silver lining in the New Year’s resolution. We tap into a big change we want to make, but we just put too much pressure on it at the beginning of the year, making it generally unsustainable. So, how can you use all the excitement and possibility around New Year’s to make some positive changes in your life without falling into the same old New Year’s resolution trap? The advice here is twofold.
Keep it simple and sustainable
Instead of putting all the pressure on changing everything in your life through a long list of large resolutions, identify and plan a set of small changes that can be introduced one month at time to ultimately reach your goal by the middle or even end of 2019. And, rather than making several goals for the year, strip it down to just one. That’s not to say you can’t achieve many things this year, but to be most successful, just focus on one that starts January 1 and that you aim to sustain throughout the year. Making dramatic instantaneous change is what we’re trying to avoid, so taking away all the chances you might set yourself up to do that is the key.
Here is a traditional example that I’ve tweaked to give you an idea of what we mean by small changes:
The old resolutions: Lose 15 pounds, completely give up soda, stop eating any processed foods.
The new, incremental changes:
- January: Find a weight loss buddy and replace one-on-one seated meetings with a walking meeting (even if it’s just around the office on office laps!)
- February: Park your car at the back of parking lot at work or the grocery store
- March: Go to one yoga class per week
- April: Replace soda with seltzer water
- May: Pack your lunch and snacks at least 3x a week
The small changes in the example above keep up momentum without putting all that dreaded pressure on completely changing yourself overnight. The small victories won each time you successfully act on your small changes are also fuel for motivation to continue your progress month after month. Which leads me to the most important part of the non-resolution resolution:
Keep track of your success
Get a journal! Keeping notes of your successes, challenges and progress will be critical. It can also be an important way for you to check in on your feelings throughout the year. Keeping track of your successes and setbacks is an incredible way of making sure your goals will stay manageable and achievable.
I sincerely hope this approach helps you to move forward with the goals you plan to achieve in 2019.
And, of course, Happy New Year!