The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions elicits in some a slow groan, if not a full-on whine—but for others, it’s a highly anticipated event.
Dreaming of being our very best selves—the ones who live out the high ideals of charity and love, discernment and willpower, passion and productivity—can be magical.
If done well, we realize the dream isn’t a dream at all. It’s a vision, a conjuring up. It’s the act of manifesting the lives we want.
And the resolutions we commit to paper become more than a simple checklist; as a whole, they become an agenda.
Here are five tips for setting stellar goals—not just for January 1, but all year through.
1. Ask Big Questions. When searching for specific answers, it can be helpful to bump the question higher and higher until you’ve achieved a wide-angle view. The inquiry becomes less about 2015 resolutions; instead, try reaching to the uppermost levels of aspiration and work your way down from there.
Example: What do I want the culture of my life to be? What are my priorities? What do I stand for? What am I afraid of? In what ways do I disappoint myself? What could I do to better love myself and others? What would truly feed my soul? The answers to questions like these will help reveal your deepest desires, which will form the basis for your intentions.
2. Look for Patterns. As you think through the list of things you want to accomplish in the coming year, it’s likely that 90 percent of them are based on current behaviors you want to change, ranging from the major to the mundane.
Here’s the identification process that works for me. First, get critically honest about the undesirable tendencies, and tease out what triggers them. Next, make sense of a messy ball of seemingly unrelated traits by untangling the strands, one by one, and then pulling together the common threads. Finally, invest the time to understand not just the “what” but also the “why.”
Example: I procrastinate and avoid when I’m not fully invested in the task or situation at hand.
3. Turn Negatives into Positives. Armed with awareness of the trait you want to break, turn it upside down. Replace unwelcome qualities or habits with those you admire and, with each resolution, aspire to be your best self in the moment.
Language is critical here. The distinctions can be subtle (“can’t” versus “don’t”) and stark (“stop being a jerk” versus “be more mindful and loving in my interactions with others”). The words we choose matter a great deal, so be expansive, not restrictive. Build yourself up instead of putting yourself down.
Example: “I resolve to love and nourish my body with the healthy food it needs and deserves” versus “Stop stuffing my fat face with junk.”
4. Organize and Internalize. Speaking of food…for me, resolutions are like chocolate chip cookies: I never stop at one. And I find no challenge in coming up with a nice round number (say, 10); in fact, I could go on for pages.
That’s why an organizing principle is key. Unless you have a photographic memory or can recall lines like an actor, it’s helpful to group individual resolutions into categories—or, better yet, construct an overarching theme under which all the strategies can fit. Then, in the same way a football player memorizes his playbook, you’ll be able to internalize your resolutions less as a to-do list and more as a way of living.
In other words, make it your mantra. Think “Be the Change;” “Wag More, Bark Less;” “Live the Life You Want Your Kids to Live.”
Example: Last year, my organizing theme was Honor the Holy. It was broad enough to cover various disparate topics (healthy eating, exercise and other forms of self-care; the ways in which I treat the people I love; my approach for managing the currency of time and energy) while directive enough to remind me of the guiding principle I wanted to apply to all my thoughts, words and actions.
5. Be Accountable. It’s one thing to make resolutions; it’s quite another to keep them. So make the declarations impossible to ignore: showcase your list or mantra front and center in a spot where you’ll see it every day (on the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, car visor, bulletin board) and regularly check your progress. Make mental or real notes of where you’re excelling and where you could refocus efforts.
The most important part is to put yourself on the hook. Establishing timeframes, deadlines and incentives, as well as consequences for not following through.
Example: The reward for daily yoga practice this week is a trip to the bookstore for the new best-seller I’ve been wanting. Skipping a day means no book—and the long-awaited bubble bath that goes with it.
When it comes down to it, resolutions are small ways to live less out of habit and more out of intent.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Becky Vollmer
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Sharon Woods/Pixoto