Do you find yourself making the same New Year’s resolutions year after year–lose weight, stick to a budget, declutter the house? You join a gym, buy a book about organization…but by February you are still living paycheck to paycheck, the new book has disappeared into the paper pile on the dining room table, and you haven’t been to the gym since January 3rd.
The worst part isn’t that you don’t keep your resolutions! It’s the toxic effect that the feeling of failure has on your mental outlook. After a few years, you make resolutions expecting them to fail, or worse yet, give up trying to make changes at all.
To break this cycle and learn to make resolutions you can follow through on, let’s take a look at why resolutions fail.
1. You Don’t Really Mean Them
Lose weight, exercise, eat better…you know you should, so you add them to your January 1st list, again. But even as you do a little voice inside is already rebelling. “But I don’t want to…” Pay attention to that little voice, and ask it yourself, why not? And listen to the answer. If you aren’t ready to make a big change, a new page on the calendar is not going to matter. Distinguish between the “You should” messages the world bombards you with, and the changes that matter most to you, and focus on the latter.
2. Your Resolutions Are Too Vague
A goal like “eat better” has no substance. Ask yourself, what will it look like if I eat better? What will I eat? What won’t I eat? Then set a specific goal, like going vegetarian one day a week, or brown bag your lunch four days out of five. When you know exactly what you want to do, you will be a better judge of your progress. The occasional glazed donut or handful of M&Ms feels like a failure when your resolution is to eat better, but if your resolution is to “eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, at least 5 days a week”, you can focus on that and avoid having small stumbles derail you from your overall target.
3. You Keep it a Secret
This goes hand in hand with making vague or unserious resolutions. It is one thing to make a resolution inside your own head. You are the only one who knows if you follow through. You don’t have to announce your plans to the whole world, but telling a trusted friend or family member who you can count on to be supportive means you will have someone to be accountable to, and someone who can cheerlead for you and help you back onto the path when you stumble. Even better, find someone who wants to work toward the same goal and do it together!
4. You Don’t Have a Plan
The first step for any large resolution is to make a plan for it. Without specific steps, you don’t know what you should be doing, or whether you are making progress. Break your overall goal down into monthly or weekly targets, so you have checkpoints to make sure you are moving forward, as well as places you can pause to look back and see how much you have accomplished. For more motivation, build in some relevant rewards for each goal as you reach it. For example, when you get your worst closet cleaned out and have rid yourself of the clutter, invest in some organizers to keep things tidy.
5. Your Resolutions are Boring
Not every resolution has to be good for you! Grinding away at self-improvement will eventually grow boring and you will wander off to more enticing activities–and feel guilty. One way to remedy this is to avoid making all your resolutions about serious goals. Throw some fun in as well! Who says that a “fun” resolution can’t help along your “serious” ones? Joining a local pub trivia night will help you “get out more”. Finding a dodgeball or kickball team in your town is progress toward “get some exercise”. And always make at least one frivolous resolution that is pure fun to carry out. Resolve to catch up on a TV series you have always wanted to check out, or to get a pedicure with a wild color.
Taking a hard look at why previous resolutions faltered will help you refocus this year, and increase your odds of succeeding. Once you have succeeded on a few resolutions, even if they are the silly or fun ones, you will give yourself positive reinforcement that you can do it. That counters those negative internal messages you carry with you when you feel like you have failed again and again at keeping a resolution. By next December, instead of guilt about what you did not do, you will be able to look back with pride at your accomplishments, with increased motivation to make the next year even better!