Planning for Positive Change
|Are you starting to contemplate your New Year resolutions? Or have you resolved never to make a New Year’s resolution again?
If the latter, you’re not alone. Many people get demoralized when, year after year, they make resolutions that they keep for only a few weeks.
Why is this? After all, we all have the best intentions, and the timing (new year, new start) couldn’t be better. A key problem lies in the fact that we place a huge amount of pressure on ourselves. During the last week of December and the first week of January, it can seem that all you hear is, “What are your New Year’s resolutions?” “What are you going to work on this year?”.
Make resolutions that matter to YOU.
And the focus is on the “what” not the “how.” When you are more concerned with the goal you set than on the specifics of how you are going to accomplish it, this can quickly lead to failure.
So, if you resolve to set successful New Year resolutions, read on. Let’s focus on how, this year, you can set yourself up to achieve them!
New Year Resolution Mistakes
There are two common mistakes that people tend to make when they start to make their New Year resolutions: They think about what they “should” do, rather than what they really want to do. And worse, they think about what they should stop doing, rather than what they actually want to achieve. “What should I do this year?” “What should I stop doing?”, “What do other people suggest I should work on?”
To be successful at any change, you need to really want it. Unless you take the time to think about what it is that you really want you (rather than what you should do or should stop doing), you will invariably end up making resolutions that you are not fully committed to.
Without commitment, you aren’t motivated. After the first setbacks or obstacles, you’ll probably quit. So the first rule of New Year Resolutions is to only make resolutions that you can commit to – don’t make them because it is “the thing to do”, or because someone has told you that you should.
The irony of it is that New Year’s resolutions have the potential to be very powerful, because making them is such a well recognized practice. Everyone knows that everyone else is setting resolutions. And what a great mutual support network that can provide!
This external motivation and support, along with your internal motivation – your desire to succeed – is what can make the difference between success and failure.
Eight Rules for New Year’s Resolutions
Our Eight Rules for New Year’s Resolutions will help to set you up for success right from the start. Inevitably you will come up against challenges and road blocks along the way; however by planning ahead and following these rules, you’ll be better placed to deal with these problems easily, rather than stumble and quit.
Rule 1: Commit to Your Resolution
Successful resolutions start with a strong commitment to make a change. To succeed, you must believe that you can accomplish what you set out to do, and really want to achieve it. Bolster that belief and desire by doing the following:
- Choose resolutions that you really want to achieve – and express them in a positive way.
- Announce your resolution to everyone around you – they will help to hold you accountable.
- Develop a ceremony to mark the beginning of your commitment – this makes it more “real” and special for you.
- Don’t leave your choice of resolution to the last minute – take time to think about your goals, and make sure that you are mentally committed to them.
- Questions to ask yourself to determine if you can take ownership of your resolution include:
- Is this resolution my idea or someone else’s?
- Does this resolution motivate and invigorate me?
- Does this resolution sit comfortably with other factors in my life, such as my values and long-term plans?
- Remember that there’s no reason why your New Year’s resolution should take all year to achieve!
Imagery is a powerful technique to help you own and commit to your resolutions. Picture yourself having attained your goal. How do you feel? How do you look? Where are you, and what are you doing? How do others react to you? By visualizing yourself in the position you desire, you can bolster your belief that you can achieve your goal, and strengthen your desire to do so.
Rule 2: Be Realistic
The key to achieving goals is continued motivation. If you set goals that are too difficult, you risk failing. Consistently failing at something is profoundly de-motivating (it’s no wonder that after a few dismal attempts, some people abandon the idea of New Year’s resolutions altogether!)
- Think carefully before setting the same resolution that you set last year. If it didn’t work for you then, make sure that there is good reason that you can achieve it this year. What has changed? Do you have more commitment to make it work? (Be careful, or else you will end up with a repeat performance, and another failed resolution!)
- Aim lower, rather than too high – aim for something that is challenging, but that you have a good chance of accomplishing. If there is any doubt, err on the side of caution and expand your goal later if you want to keep improving.
- Don’t try to do too much. There is no reason to set more than one or two resolutions. Anymore than that, and you’ll lose focus, and lessen your chances of success in any one area.
Rule 3: Write It Down
A simple but powerful technique for making your goal feel real is to put your resolution into writing. There is something inside us that creates more commitment and drive when we do this. Consider writing your resolution down on pieces of card, and keeping it where you’ll see it often – on your desk, on the fridge door, or in your wallet.
Rule 4: Make a Plan
This is where so many resolutions fall down. Articulating what you want to achieve is one thing; deciding how to do it is quite another. Don’t miss out this step!
- Start by envisioning where you want to be.
- Then work back along your path to where you are today, writing down all of the milestones that you need to pass in between.
- Decide what you will do to reach each of these milestones, at least at a high level. (You can plan in more detail as you reach that stage.)
Rule 5: Be Flexible
Not everything will work out precisely the way you planned. If you are too rigid in your approach to making resolutions, the first minor obstacle can throw you off your course completely.
- When creating your plan, try to predict some of the challenges that you will face. Make a contingency plan for the ones that have the highest probability, and mentally prepare yourself for others, just in case they come up.
- Realize that your resolution itself may change along the way. As long as this is positive, that’s not failure, it’s reality. As your life changes, so will your goals, dreams, and desires. Remember Rule 1 (Commit to Your Resolution): If you need to make changes to the goal so that you continue to care about it, do so.
There is no fixed rule saying that a resolution must be set in January. If your circumstances mean that it is better to wait until March, then do so. Resolution making and goal setting are a year round activity.
Rule 6: Use a System of Reminders
It’s hard to keep focused on your plan when you have many other commitments, responsibilities, and obligations. The best way to stay on top of your resolution is to develop a formal reminder system.
- We’ll say it again: have your written resolutions visible at as many times of the day as possible. Leave reminders at work, at home, in the car, on your calendar, in your briefcase, and so on.
- Make sure that the actions you have planned are on your To-Do List (perhaps have a special section for them at the top).
- Set up reminders in your desktop calendar or subscribe to an email reminder service.
- Think creatively about how you can remind yourself of your resolutions, so that they stay in the front of your mind.
Rule 7: Track Your Progress
You won’t know how well you are doing unless you keep track of your progress. This is why your detailed plan is so important. By building excitement around the little successes, you can keep yourself motivated, and keep pushing forwards.
- Use a journal and regularly make an entry in it regarding your progress.
- Note when you felt particularly pleased with your efforts.
- Note when you felt down, or felt like quitting. Over time, look for common themes and decide if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
- Record challenges you faced, as well as things that went better than planned.
- Look back at your entries on a regular basis, and use your past experiences to shape your attitude as you move forward.
- Ask a friend or family member to call you on pre-defined occasions to discuss your progress.
Rule 8: Reward Yourself
Although knowledge of a job well done can be reward enough, we all enjoy a little treat from time to time. Even the most committed person needs a boost, and sometimes that is best accomplished through an external reward.
When you are developing your plan, make a note of a few milestones where you will reward yourself once you have achieved them. But spread them out – you want to make sure that the rewards remain special, and are not too easy to get!
New Year’s resolutions can be a pain or a pleasure – the choice is yours! If they’re a pain, you may resolve never to make a resolution again, so resolve to make them a pleasure! The starting point is to focus on something that you really want and are ready to give your commitment to. Do this and you’ll be in a great position to stay motivated and be successful!
As you plan your New Year resolutions, apply the Eight Rules to set yourself up for success.