We all know the drill. Another year comes to a close, and it is once again time for some long-overdue self-reflection. How did we do this year? For most of us, it is a time to once again face the harsh reality of great resolutions long forgotten.
We dig up our old list, stashed away somewhere in the corner of our filing cabinet, or notes app. Ah yes, the ambitiously set goals slowly dawn on you. But what of all those plans? January of that year you diligently worked on them only for those great new habits to be washed away by numerous distractions and commitments. During the spring and summer time, you occasionally dabbled in some activities meant to help you on your way to attaining, that now seemingly distant, goal. By the time fall comes around you and your resolutions are as estranged as can be. Before you know it, the year is drawing to a close, you find yourself wondering where the time went, and why you weren’t able to achieve these seemingly realistic resolutions.
But no fear, next year is a new year and you get yourself pumped for all that lies ahead. This is the year. Okay, you didn’t manage to make it happen for yourself THIS year but that next year is going to be THE ONE. With great care, you start jotting down all of your ambitious plans for the year to come and with great pride, you wave your list around for anyone to see. Hear ye, hear ye, tis the season for me to create new goals because on the cusp of the new year I will undergo a profound change in being and suddenly all that had stopped me before will be forgotten. Procrastination will be no more. Motivation will be abundant and I will miraculously want to do everything that I cannot for the life of me convince myself to do right now.
Midnight arrives. The promised year is upon you. So far so good, you think to yourself as you welcome in the new year with those around you. With a satisfied smile, you head to bed excited for the next day as the ‘new and improved’ you. But then you wake up, the next morning, to find that lo and behold… you are still YOU! No profound change, no quick fix. Just a feeling of slight disappointment which you quickly brush off, along withsome of that intense dedication to your new year’s resolutions.
It might be a tad dramatic, but most of us will be able to find a bit of ourselves in at least a part of the story. This is a vicious circle of good intentions that have fallen victim to our own inability to follow-through on promises made.
Where did it go awry for you?
Many, if not all, of our resolutions, are grounded in habits. In trying to change these habits, we are quick to forget the time it took to establish them. We are so keen to pull the habits out of the soil that we are wary of just how far the roots have grown. Then, having royally underestimated the work needed to uproot the habit, we stand back perplexed at the fact that the habit didn’t just give in when we tried to jank it by the roots.
1. Planning your resolutions to death
I am definitely guilty of this one, as a proud and self-proclaimed ‘to-do’ lister I find there is nothing quite like a good to-do list. In the past, I have even enjoyed it a bit too much. By the time I finished with these lists and I could have been well-through it, instead, I didn’t feel like it anymore. I might as well have ticked creating the to-do list off of my list and called it a day.
We can get bogged down in planning out every minute detail, so much so that we fail to even start. Oh man, did that list make you feel good about yourself! The planning, the dreaming, the anticipation! But whatever happened to the execution? Plans are great, especially, when they are followed by actions!
2. Overwhelming yourself
We get overwhelmed by our resolutions and huge plans that we have set out for ourselves. It is the same debilitating effect that choice paralysis has on us. With our huge laundry lists of profound changes that we set for ourselves, we are actually setting ourselves up for failure. You do not have to always go beyond yourself to create change. Sometimes change starts with something relatively small.
3. Dreading the work
This almost goes hand in hand with overwhelming yourself. But it is so powerful that it is worth mentioning on its own. How often have you not caught yourself dreading performing a certain task? The mere thought of doing it already drains you of any and all motivation.
Some of the best athletes (e.g. track and field) use visualization to prepare themselves before a race. They imagine themselves running the race in order to warm their minds up for the actual thing. This way when the time comes to actually run the race, mentally they feel a lot calmer and more prepared because it is not something new for them. If you can imagine yourself doing something, you are already one step closer to actually doing it because the first step is believing you can. Which leads me to my next point.
4. Not believing you can do it
It’s that feeling when you set all kinds of plans, but have that lingering back-of-mind feeling that you actually can’t really do it. It also does not really help if in the past you have set goals for yourself which you weren’t able to see through into successful execution. We are comfortable in the familiar and routine because it is something that we have done before. The path of least resistance, some would even call it. We are confident that we can do it again if it is something we have done before. How confident can you be about achieving something that you have never tried? This is where believing in yourself gets tricky. This is where you really need faith. Convincing yourself to trust in yourself is one of the hardest things.
5. The need for instant gratification
With so many things in our lives revolving around quick fixes and easy solutions, it comes as no surprise that we want to adopt this instant reward system in all aspects of our lives. In a society where many things can be classified as ‘instant’, such as rewards (likes) and food we often forget that this does not apply to habits and our goals. The sheer act of setting a goal is not like placing an order. This is not a case of next day delivery. We have to work for it. For some things, we need to work harder than for others. This is all relative. Often times, we need to work on it for a (long) period of time before we can reap the benefits. After all, you can not reap what you do not sow.
What can you do about it?
1. Keep it simple and short
There is no need to get caught up in the elaborate planning of your resolution(s). Keep it short and sweet so you can get to the part that matters the most. Starting! Don’t overthink it. This is for some a common deterrent, the fear that we haven’t thought of everything before we commit to starting. Don’t worry, just start! We are very adaptable beings and starting doesn’t mean that we cannot change anything anymore. We learn as we grow and we grow by experiencing. The only way to experience is by starting!
2. Don’t overthink it
But what if? Maybe I should first… It might be better if I start tomorrow since… STOP! Just stop overthinking it. Make a plan, don’t get bogged down in the nitty-gritty and get started. All you are doing when you overthink things is stand in your own way. Realize that starting is not the end of the world and that you can always go back and adjust or fine-tune your goal(s).
A common reason for overthinking is that we are so preoccupied with what other people will think. Ask yourself this question: Are you changing for them or for yourself? If your answer is not the latter you might want to rethink your reason for setting that goal. The only truly long-lasting motivator is when you choose to change for yourself. That is the only thing that will keep you going when the going gets rough and no one is looking.
3. Don’t overdo it
Great you managed to get yourself motivated. But now you are going towards the other end of the spectrum with almost obsessive dedication. Try not to go overboard. There is such a thing as doing too little and doing too much and both can kill your progress. Find your balance and maintain your progress.
4. Invest in the long-haul
Understand that things will not magically change tomorrow simply because you put pen to paper and made a plan. Also, don’t compare yourself to others. Someone might have a similar goal but is racing by you in leaps and bounds. Just focus on yourself and make sure you take at least one step a day. Before you know it you will be surprised to see how far those baby steps got you when you look back.
5. Believe you can do it
Convincing yourself that you can do something does not have to be based on blind, profound faith. You can learn to gradually trust yourself through small acts that build up your reassurance in yourself. For example, making a habit to be on time, to be prepared, to wake up at a certain time every day or on certain days. You name it. Start with incremental and tangible acts. Working on yourself does not have to be about trying to move a mountain but rather about carrying at least one stone a day.
Also, just because you failed does not mean that you have to fail again. Failing does not make you a failure. We only really fail when we just give up and decide to stop trying. So don’t let yourself get stuck in a negative spiral of self-doubt. We have a choice every day to be our own worst enemy or our biggest fan. Whichever you choose will set the tone for how you approach almost anything in life. So always choose wisely!
6. Make it tangible
We often tend to get carried away when setting our goals and find ourselves left with extreme points on our lists. It is great that we are willing and open to change but we need to incorporate our own abilities and of course practicality into the mix. It needs to be realistic. No one is turning into Superman/woman when the clock strikes midnight.
Having a tangible goal can help you to track your progress along the way. Ideally, you should be able to break your goal down into bite-sized pieces that can help you keep your daily/(bi)weekly/monthly/quarterly momentum towards your goal. So remember, if you cannot measure it, it’s probably not a good resolution.
7. Track, track, track your progress!
These days you can find an app to measure even the craziest of things. You might even go so far as to call us obsessed with tracking. Why do we do it? The truth is that it helps us to stay focused on our goal. Along the way it can alert us to potential roadblocks and what we can do to overcome them.
Tracking can give you a sense of accomplishment for every milestone that you reach. It tells us whether we are moving forward towards our desired goal(s). There is nothing quite like an encouraging pat on the back to tell you that you’re doing a good job and to keep you motivated. In case you don’t want to leave it all up to technology, get support from those around you. We have all felt, at least once, that guilty feeling when someone asks us how we are progressing with our goal(s) when we KNOW we’ve barely touched it. Use the accountability to whip you into shape and keep you on track to achieving your goal.
8. Know your ‘why’!
What drives your need for change? What is the reason that you want to for example: learn a new language, lose weight or find a new job? If you do not know your ‘why’, you will not be able to fully commit to the change process. Between half-heartedly committing to changing and not changing, the path of least resistance leads us to the realization that we may not want to change after all. If you do not understand what you are getting yourself into when you desire to make a change in your life, you are already setting yourself up for failure. So for every goal that you set, keep your ‘why’ in mind for when the going gets rough. When it all comes down to it, that just might be the only thing standing between you and the version of you that successfully achieves goals.
Keep in mind, though, that you do not need to wait until the end of the year in order to set resolutions. You can start as early as tomorrow or even today. That is completely up to you. Get started and don’t forget to reward yourself along the way for a job well-done. No step is to small to celebrate!
At the end of the day, there is only one thing standing in the way of you reaching your resolutions, and that is you! So set your goals and keep your ‘why’s’ always in mind for that rainy day when the going gets tough!
“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”
― Warren Buffett