In Defense of New Year's Resolutions
Did you make new year's resolutions this year?? I'd venture to guess that the majority of people still do, and yet this year more than ever before I've been inundated with posts and articles about how new year's resolutions don't work, the startlingly low number of days before they're broken (as though this could really be studied scientifically), etc.
I agree it's unfortunate that so many of us set intentions that fall by the wayside. But I don't think the answer is to just accept the status quo and refrain from setting resolutions altogether!
The answer, in my opinion, is to find a way to make change stick. And since this is my job, I have an idea or two about that based on what I've seen with my clients.
First, we need to get smart about our goal setting. Most importantly, we need to set goals that are specific, measurable, and attainable. If you say you want to get stronger, what does that mean? Will you be able to do a pull-up or a push-up from your toes? Will you be able to shovel your driveway without being sore the next day? If you say you want to get healthier, what does that mean? Do you want to lower your cholesterol or your blood pressure? By how many points? If you say you want to eat better, what does that mean? Do you want to have a certain number of servings of vegetables each day? Limit added sugars to a certain number of grams per week?
See what I mean? If we don't get specific with our goals, we have no way of knowing if we've succeeded.
Beyond that, I think many of us set goals that really aren't attainable, or we set goals that will be too hard to attain. There's nothing wrong with "hairy scary" goals that get us dreaming big about what we might be capable of, but then we've got to take the step of reverse engineering those goals. What will it take to get you there? What small steps can you take that are within your control, and that you can easily complete? For instance, if your goal is a six-figure income, what kind of job will get you there? What kind of training will you need for that job? What kind of networking connections will help you get that job? Maybe the attainable goal is signing up for a class, applying to graduate school, or attending one networking event per month.
There's nothing wrong with setting a goal so small it's just a small twist on your life as it is now. For example, a big goal of mine is going from 7 hours of sleep to 8 or even 7.5. I think this will have a bigger effect on my quality of life than almost anything else I can do. So it's one of my new year's resolutions.
Will I achieve it every single night in 2016? Definitely not. But that doesn't mean making this resolution is pointless. Making the resolution places it top of mind. From there, I need a way to stay accountable for following through. And that's what I have coaching groups and accountability partners for.
This isn't the first time I've written about the simple yet powerful benefits of working with a coach. It's why I do what I do. Quite simply, I'm here to make sure my clients don't give up on their goals or forget about them.
This doesn't mean you need to work with me as your coach (although if you would like to, I would love to hear from you... you can learn more about the programs I offer and find my email address at the bottom of the page). Once you set your resolutions, connect with a friend or relative and ask them to touch base with you daily or weekly about your resolution, and offer to do the same for them. Studies have found that people who have a workout buddy are more likely to stick with their routines; the same is true of any other behavior. If you know someone is going to be asking you about it at the end of the week, it might just provide the motivation to get you to actually do it. What we do on a daily basis becomes habit; you're just looking for someone to hold your feet to the fire long enough for that to actually happen.
And then there's the notion of acceptance, and a whole spate of articles about how new year's resolutions fly in the face of this notion. This is an important topic... one I could write a whole post about... in fact, I have. But in this context, let me just say: you are perfect exactly as you are.
Mindset is a huge factor in the success or failure of any resolution. If the behavior you are resolving to change is a coping mechanism for you, then it is very likely you will return to that behavior when you are feeling down. This is me to a T! I sabotage myself by saying "screw it" because deep down I don't believe I deserve to succeed!
But if you and I take the leap to believe we are perfect exactly as we are, and we don't have to do anything or achieve anything to be worthy of love and care...then it's easier to stick to that resolution! We make the resolutions we make because we believe our bodies and souls deserve to be treated well. We fail when we lose sight of this belief.
So yes, I would agree that resolutions suck...if the mindset behind them says that you're bad and you need to get better. I agree this cycle of self-flagellation and then despairing and giving up is silly. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
People accomplish amazing things in their lives when they decide it's time for a change. They lose weight and bring health conditions under control. They improve relationships and get out of debt.
It doesn't need to be January 1 to embark on this kind of journey...but if that is what's motivating people, I don't mind being part of the new year's resolution blitz. If you're ready for a kinder, saner approach, I challenge you to take a journey of self-love this year. When grounded in acceptance and fortified with smart goals and accountability, new year's resolutions (or anytime-of-the-year) resolutions have a good chance of success.