We all know the drill. Every year, on or around January first, we sit down and write a long list of things we need to do to improve our lives and generally get our shit together. And then we never do. Sure, maybe we glance at the list from time to time. Maybe we buy some new workout clothes or join a new community or sign up for a class. But, speaking for myself, I am absolutely terrible at keeping my New Year’s resolutions. And I think most of us are. That’s because the New Year’s resolution process, as commonly practiced, is a recipe for failure.
So I’m going to share some tips and tricks that have been proven to work (and some that just feel right to me). Using these strategies, I’m going to see if I can’t make 2016 an exception to the Resolution Graveyard.
Go Ahead and Make That Long List…
…but realize that you’ll probably abandon 75% of it — and that’s okay! The point of this exercise is to 1) do a brain dump of all the things you might want to work on, and 2) have the data you need to discover what your real priorities are.
Sure, most of us could stand to be healthier; we all want to make more money; we all want to be more confident and manage our time better and handle stress like a Zen master and generally just be perfect.
But let’s be real here: life has a funny way of getting in the way of our plans. It happens to me all the time, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. So making a giant list of things you need to do — and trying to do all of them at the same time — is going to be beyond overwhelming. Looking at that giant list will probably just make you feel like a big ol’ blob of failure…which will make you want to give up before you’ve even started. So what can we do about that?
Trim It Down
Now that you have your laundry list of life improvements, stare that sucker down and look for extraneous fluff. (See? We all edit. You’re editing right now!)
Is there anything you could get rid of? Are any of your resolutions things that other people may think are important, but aren’t necessarily important to you? Really think about this, and get rid of anything that you don’t genuinely want (or need) to improve.
All right, you got rid of the stuff you don’t really care about, and you’ve still got a pretty long list. Now it’s time for the tough decisions. What is the one thing you can do that will make your life better? Ideally, you should get it down to no more than three resolutions.
One thing to understand here is that everything is relative. Everything we do has a ripple effect, especially when it comes to our own lives and habits. So if you really commit to improving one or two things in your life, and if you follow through and start making changes, you’ll notice that other things are affected as well.
It’s all well and good to say that you want to “get healthy” or “be more successful” or “change the world.” But resolutions like these are so hard to keep because they’re way too vague.
What exactly do you want to achieve? What does achieving that goal look like to you? Really drill it down, and figure out precisely what you’re trying to do.
Make an Action Plan
Now that you have your short, specific list of essential goals, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to achieve the hell out of them. Break it down into small chunks so it’s less overwhelming. Focus on the actions you need to take to achieve your goals, instead of the goals themselves.
“I need to quit smoking” is the goal. “I’m going to record how many cigarettes I smoke every day, monitor how I’m feeling when I ‘need a cigarette,’ and start cutting down” — that’s a series of actions.
It’s much easier to achieve your goal(s) if you know how you’re going to do it. Think of it as a roadmap (or GPS, for you directionally-challenged folks). Build in milestones and rewards, so you have a clear path to your goal(s) and incentives to keep working toward them.
Let’s talk logistics for a moment. The worst thing you can do is make your list…and then never look at it again. You can, of course, hang your list of resolutions on the fridge (or wherever you like), but there are other things you can do to increase your chance of success.
One of the best ways to keep your plan “front of mind” (ah, marketing-speak) is to have a to-do list. I keep mine on Google Drive (although there are a number of gorgeous, helpful planners you can buy). You can also set a recurring reminder by creating an event in your virtual calendar of choice (and setting it up to send you an email, if you wish). I’m currently using this method for backups, invoicing, and to remind myself to “do some damn marketing.”
Make sure you celebrate your successes, no matter how small. I use IDoneThis to keep track of everything I get done (and I do mean everything). It’s also useful for looking for trends (just how often do I order pizza?) and identifying time sucks or bad habits, because it gives you a general idea of what you accomplish in any given week or month.
Be Kind to Yourself
We all fail. It’s part of the human condition; it happens to each and every one of us. So it’s going to happen, I guarantee it. The key is how you react to failure. Just because you failed once today, that doesn’t mean your whole resolution (or even your whole day) is blown. And it doesn’t give you license to say, “I slipped; might as well lay down on the floor and wallow. Go big or go home, right?”
Nope. It’s a trap — don’t fall into it. Every day is different. Hell, sometimes every hour is different.
Imagine telling someone you care about, “Well, you failed once, so you are a failure and you should just give up.” You wouldn’t do that, right? So don’t do it to yourself.
Optional: Get an Accountability Partner (or a Whole Bunch of Them)
I’m putting this down as optional because it’s something I personally do not like doing. I tend not to tell anyone that I’m working on improving anything, because “accountability” tends to sound an awful lot like “getting on my case” to me. And I have quite enough fear of failure in my own head; I don’t really need to increase it by broadcasting my goals to the world. That’s my bias.
But a lot of people really benefit from having someone to keep them accountable. Some people like to announce their resolutions to everyone, and if that works for you, that’s awesome. Go for it. But I think some people (including myself) might benefit more from just telling a few people, or even a single person, what we’re up to.
If you decide to go this route, choose your accountability partner(s) wisely. Maybe they shouldn’t be your significant other or an immediate family member. But they should definitely be someone you trust, and someone who knows how to hold you accountable without discouraging or berating you.
One last thing: dump this “New Year, New You” nonsense. It’s shallow and trite, and it implies that you need to be a completely different person in order to be better (which is a harmful lie).
Changing your life is big and hard and scary. But it all depends on how you look at it, and how you go about it. Making a few small changes here and there doesn’t seem like a big deal, but over time, they add up.
How good are you at keeping your New Year’s resolutions? What works for you? Let’s talk about it!