If you recall, last year I suggested that instead of a new year’s resolution you consider adopting a motto for the new year. It’s low pressure and gives you a daily mantra that you can live by no matter what happens. It’s good advice and I stand by it.
However, I understand that there are those of you will ignore that advice and solemnly resolve to make a change next year. You may decide it’s high time you quit smoking. That’s terrific. Perhaps you took a look in the mirror and resolved to do something about that spare tire or those toothpick arms. Admirable. Cut out excess drinking (right after the midnight toast)? You should.
Whatever your big plan for January and beyond, I want you to succeed. And while you’ve already shown yourself to be someone who doesn’t take my advice (see first paragraph), I’m here to give you some more.
The first resolution-related thing you should do is step back and really make this count. Don’t just show up at the gym and start randomly lifting weights if you resolved to get fit, or open Monster.com in a furtive attempt to fulfill that “improve your career” vow. It’s been proven that for most people, diving headlong into that resolution dooms it to failure. Need proof? My neighborhood gym is packed every January and empty by October. Case closed.
So sit down on January 1 with a sheet of paper and a pen, and make a plan.
Start with your goal. You’re probably expecting to see “an achievable goal” here, but that’s not what I’m gonna tell you. In fact, make that goal as big as you want it. The sky’s the limit. Buff and cut by June? Cold turkey smokeless? Hang gliding, skydiving and white-water kyaking solo by the end of the summer? In a band with an indie single for the next Xmas season? Fine, as long as you take the next step…
Break It Down
Now take that goal and figure out what you need to achieve it. The first step is to write down exactly what “success” consists of. “Cut and buff” should turn into a percentage of body fat and inches of muscle. “Cold turkey smokeless” should include what you’ll be doing to combat cravings safely. “Improve my career” should include the exact position you seek. Imagining that success is a powerful way to stay on track.
Once you know what success is, start penciling in the steps to get there. Look up the courses you’ll need for the skills that the career requires, and methods to obtain experience. Look up adventure sports instructors and find out how many lessons and how many hours you’ll need before you can go solo (or find out if you shouldn’t). Have someone to call if the nicotine fits or urge to have a drink gets too great, and strategies for avoiding the situations where you smoked or drank in the past. Create a workout and eating plan (have I mentioned yet that I’ve just created something that can help?).
Plan out your months, then your weeks, then if necessary your days. Know what you’re going to do tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that. Your plan should also contain your plans after you achieve your success, because anything great enough to resolve to do should also be great enough to use as impetus for the next goal.
Don’t Let Your Resolution Rule Your Life
The last piece of advice I’ll give you is the most important: don’t devote every waking hour to your resolution. Give it time to breathe, and yourself time to live the other parts of your life. For most of us, total immersion in our pursuit of a goal will make us either overly frustrated at setbacks or simply burned out on the whole resolution thing.
Instead, make it about small achievements. Take just one class to begin with, or go shopping for the healthy food you’re going to eat this week, or take five minutes to celebrate another day without a cigarette.
When you suffer a setback—and most of us will—your plan should help you handle it. When you know what success is, and when your resolution doesn’t rule your life, it’s easier to get back on track. Look at your plan, find the next step, and continue on your path.
After writing all this, I’ve figured out what my biggest problem is with new year’s resolutions—you should have goals, and the plans to go with them, throughout the year. The changing of the calendar shouldn’t be required. Whether you’re reading this on January 5th, or July 18th, or November 3rd, and you have something you really want, go ahead and make it your January 5th resolution or July 18th resolution or Novem…you get the picture. Pull out that sheet of paper and get started now.
That way, you can just go ahead and adopt a motto at New Year’s, and everyone wins.