How to set goals you will actually attain.(Photo: SimplyEighties)
So, you’re thinking about New Year’s resolutions.
This is the year. This is the year you practice yoga daily, lose ten pounds, stop procrastinating, get to bed earlier, get up earlier, meditate more, be nicer, save more money, stop drinking coffee, get your dream job and learn how to leap tall buildings in a single bound. 2012 is your year. I have some unfortunate news for you:
No. It’s not.
Here’s the thing, unless something has radically changed for you recently, you probably aren’t going to make any radical changes. Ironic, huh. In fact, it’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
The clean slate of a new year is seductive. We want to overhaul everything we perceive as imperfect or flawed about ourselves and the blank new calendar feels like the perfect opportunity. So how does it work? How can you make resolutions that you’ll keep past February and have meaningful change in your life?
A few things to consider:
1. New Year = New Resolutions. If you’ve had it on your list for the past five years and you haven’t done it, why will it be different this year? In fact, if you haven’t successfully made the change, maybe it’s time to reevaluate whether or not it’s something you actually want. Many people carry an idea of who they are supposed to be that’s left over from college (or high school–or earlier still). Who are you right now? What do you like about yourself? About your life? What do you want more of in your life? What are you ready to leave behind?
2. Know your “whys.” Are these changes things that you actually want? Are they someone else’s goals that sounded like a good idea? Knowing why you want to make a change in your life is significant. Wanting to drink less coffee because it’s affecting your sleep quality is an internal motivation. In terms of a goal you’ll stick with–that’s a very good thing. Wanting to drink less coffee because Dr. Oz said you should…not so much. It’s great to look to friends or role models for inspiration, but in order to set a goal that you will reach, the motivation needs to come from within.
3. Build on a current positive behavior. I’ve been gradually moving from vegetarian towards vegan. A good example of building on a current habit might be for me to move to eating dairy once a week or every other week. If you meditate for ten minutes in the morning, try for 15. This is a good area of your life to consider when choosing resolutions. What choices make you feel proud? How can you build on them?
4. Add habits instead of removing them. If you’d like to drink less coffee, start by adding more water or green tea. If you want to quit smoking, add a short walk at a time you normally smoke. It’s human nature to rebel. The minute anyone tells you that you can’t have something it immediately becomes more attractive. Add in positive behaviors that make the negative ones less comfortable.
5. Think mantra rather than makeover. Every year for the past ten years or so, I’ve found a word or mantra emerges that affects my year. Last year, it was “surrender.” I’m still working on it. Sometimes a word or phrase can be very instrumental towards positive change. Find a quote, or even a single word that moves you. Write it up. Paint it. Put it where you see it often.
6. Focus on internal versus external needs. “I want to save more money every month” might actually mean “I want to feel secure.” “I want to lose weight” might actually mean “I want to love the way my body looks.” Saving money might make you feel more secure. Losing weight might make you feel better about your body and improve your health. Addressing your internal needs will create more meaningful, lasting change, regardless of external outcome. Peeling the layers away to figure out what it is you actually want will definitely make a difference in your year.
7. Be specific. If you did the last part, this should be easy. “I want to go to yoga more often” is vague. “I want to go to the 6 a.m. yoga class Mondays and Wednesdays” is specific. A specific, quantifiable goal is less likely to get lost in the shuffle. Being specific also helps you choose an attainable goal. I want to clean up the Earth; I can start by remembering to bring out my compost bucket every day.
8. If none of this helps, forget resolutions altogether. Forget all of it. Stop worrying about it. And not in a “I’m just going to think good thoughts and wish it all better” kind of way. Let it go and take a cue from Walt Whitman instead:
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches,
give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem
and have the richest fluency not only in its words
but in the silent lines of its lips and face
and between the lashes of your eyes
and in every motion and joint of your body.”