How to Approach New Years’ Resolutions the Right Way

This is the time of year when people often feel the urge to set personal improvement goals, with the closing of a year, spring right around the corner, and, this year specifically, a new decade emerging. After all, what is more futuristic and motivating than the year 2020, when we all thought we’d be driving flying cars, visiting Mars for a weekend, and wearing space suits and stardust eyeshadow as every-day fashion? However, why is it that the commitments we are so serious about on Jan 1 are all but forgotten by April 1? How can we ensure that our motivation holds up throughout the year so that we can claim victory instead of defeat come Jan 2021?

First, don’t set too many resolutions. It will spread your energy and attention thin. What are the three most important? Be a master of some, not a jack-of-all-trades, and you’re more likely to realize big success. For example, if you’re very overweight, have $4 in your savings account, and have no job, perhaps make those things your focus, not learning to paint or how to play the piano. This is the “R” in the SMART acronym for making sure your goals are “Relevant”.

Second, build on what you’re already doing. Perhaps you got a good start on last year’s resolutions and can take off from where you left off. For instance, perhaps you lost 50 of the 75 pounds you had resolved to lose last year. Resolve to lose the last 25 this year. Or perhaps you resolved to clean one room of your house every day. Maybe this year along with cleaning each day you could add cooking one healthful meal, instead of eating out or having a pre-packaged meal three times a day.

Third, keep your goals reasonable. Telling yourself you’ll lose 150 pounds or that you’ll be in shape to run the Boston marathon if you’re still an overweight couch potato in January is not realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic resolutions. This is the “A” in the SMART acronym for making sure your goals are “Attainable”.

Fourth, go into it with the right attitude, not ready to beat yourself up when you backslide. You’re doing this because you love yourself enough to ensure you reach your full potential, not because you want to punish yourself.

Fifth, make sure your resolutions are specific (the “S” in the SMART acronym), so you’re clear about what you want the desired outcome to be. For example, “I will walk 30 minutes a day”, not “I’ll take a walk every day”.

Sixth, make sure your resolutions are measurable (the “M” in the SMART acronym), so that you know whether you’re reaching your goal. So not “I will lose weight”, but “I will lose 50 pounds this year.” Putting it the first way means you technically succeeded even if you only lost 1 pound the entire year (probably not an achievement worthy of writing home about).

Seventh, set a time frame (the “T’ in the SMART acronym ). With new years’ resolutions, this is generally assumed to be the entire year, but it doesn’t have to be. Giving yourself a time frame will help you know how to pace yourself and keep your motivation and anticipation high.

Eighth, understand the difference between steps, goals, and vision. A goal is the desired outcome: “I will lose 50 pounds this year.” Steps are what must be done to accomplish the goal: “I will cut out simple carbs, walk 30 minutes a day, and drink only water.” Vision is what you expect to happen from reaching your goal: “I want to live a longer life so I can be there to see my children marry and have my grandchildren, and I want to be healthy enough to do some traveling.”

Ninth, focus on the point behind your resolutions. Always prioritize the big picture and not arbitrary numbers. While it’s important, as stated above, to set specific, measurable goals, don’t feel like a failure if you set out to read 50 books this year, but read 40. It’s still an achievement in its own right.

Tenth, decide whether to tell others about your goals upfront. There are possible pros and cons to both, which I will cover in another post soon.

Did I leave anything out? Does anybody have anything they would like to add on the topic of making and keeping New Years’ Resolutions, or on the topic of New Years’ Resolutions, more broadly? Please leave a comment!

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