How To Set a New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep
So, with the big day now over and Father Christmas and his elves breathing a big sigh of relief, thoughts in a typical household are turning to three things right now:
- How long is it safe to keep eating all this left-over turkey?
- Holidays: Let’s get that sunshine break in the diary now and give ourselves something new to look forward to.
- What new year’s resolutions am I going to set myself to make sure next year is better than this one has been?
I’m afraid I can’t help you with the first one – at the ripe old age of 43 I still debate that one with my husband every year. I can’t help you with the second either really (other than to commiserate with you as your high hopes get let down a little when you remember just how expensive it is to travel in the school holidays).
But the third? Well, here I can offer some thoughts that may help you set your new year’s goals in a way that means once the enthusiasm of the holiday period is over, you will be committed enough to what you want to keep going and actually achieve those resolutions this year:
Give yourself some space and time to reflect on the year that’s gone by, and where it has left you as we enter the last few days of 2016. You’ll probably start by thinking about the things that went wrong and the things that are difficult or challenging, or things that are making you feel unhappy. That’s fine. But don’t forget to also think about the things that went well during the year too.
While we often focus on setting resolutions to change the things that aren’t working, we’re actually most likely to give our overall happiness and success a boost by doing more of the things that we are good at or enjoy in our lives: so consider setting yourself a goal to do more of something positive as well as one that changes something that’s not so good. If you can find a way to link doing more of something you enjoy to something that needs improving – well, that’s when you’re most likely to hit the success jackpot!
While it’s never a good idea to give yourself a hard time for doing your best, you’re more likely to do your very best (and realise your best is better than you thought) if you aim big when you’re setting your goal. This isn’t the time to get all practical and realistic (we’ll get there in a minute) – it’s a time to be bold and think about what you’d REALLY like to achieve, however crazy or unrealistic it sounds and however much it scares you.
And while we’re talking big, don’t get stuck by assuming you have to achieve this goal by 31st December 2017 – that’s just a date, same as any other: Are you really going to stop yourself from achieving what you want just because it may not feel realistic right now to achieve it within a specific 365 day period?!
Once I’ve got an area for a goal in mind, one of my favourite questions to ask myself at this stage is:
“What would my equivalent of winning Olympic Gold be in this area?”
However you go about setting your goal and making your plan, don’t leave this step out – in many ways, it’s the most important one of all.
Fact is, things will go wrong. You will have difficult times. You will hit obstacles. That initial motivation and enthusiasm you’re feeling because you’ve decided to do something positive – it won’t be as strong three months down the line on a rainy March morning when work isn’t going too well, one of your kids is sick, and progress towards achieving your goal has been slow for a while. To be honest, it probably won’t be as strong the first morning you have to get up and go to work in the New Year and find yourself immediately slipping into the old routine.
Going back and remembering WHY you are doing this – why you committed to achieving your goal in the first place – is usually one of the best ways to get re-motivated. Without a strong, genuine reason for doing something, a reason that actually matters to you (that’s YOU – not someone else) – you’ve got to question why you’re doing it in the first place. Truth is, you’re not really very likely to create the time needed or summon up the energy to get focused on something that doesn’t really matter that much.
So why EXACTLY do you want to achieve this goal? What benefits will it bring you? What’s the real, underlying purpose of doing this?
Ask yourself “why” once. Then, ask why again. Then do it again. When you can no longer ask “why” or find any other “whys”…you can bet you’ve found the real reason why. This isn’t always easy to do by yourself, and it can take great courage to allow yourself to really get to the heart of why this matters. But it’s important to do it.
I’ll give you a really personal example of how this works: that is, a very important “why” that I discovered when working with a personal coach myself earlier in 2016:
I was being coached because I wanted to lose weight and get fitter. Although I’ve spent most of my adult life being overweight, generally it hadn’t been high enough up my list of priorities to really do anything much about it – my weight had yo-yo’d up and down over a decade or two but, to be frank, I didn’t care enough about changing how I looked by being slimmer. I could keep the motivation and willpower going for a while – sometimes enough to lose a stone or two, but kept giving up.
This year, despite still not really worrying about my looks, I somehow started to feel more uncomforatable about being overweight and I sought some coaching to help me. This is how (in a very abridged way!) the conversation about my reasons for wanting to lose weight went:
- Why one: Because I should* weigh less (ie others/the world at large tells me it’s not right to be overweight)
- Why two: Because it will be good for my health
- Why three: Because if I’m healthier I might be around longer for my kids.
- Why four: (getting quite agitated at this point) Because it’s totally realistic to live a healthier life and I just don’t feel any self-respect when I don’t even make the effort.
Aha!!!! For me, it’s not actually about losing weight. It’s about feeling self-respect for doing what I can to live healthily, when I know that it’s possible to be healthier than I am now and yet I’m choosing not to be healthy.
I’ll save the whole story for another blog post. For this one, the point is that uncovering a totally different motivator led me to write a totally different type of goal….and this enabled me to choose a range of changes to my lifestyle that, at the time of writing, I’ve sustained for well over six months (on the whole) and have led to weight loss, improved fitness and a very different mindset about eating and exercise.
*An important note on your “why” and that word “should”: If your reason for doing something involves feeling you “should” do something, it’s likely it is about pleasing someone else rather than doing something that actually matters to you. Whenever you feel you “should” or “must” do something….it’s unlikely to work and sustain you and motivate you when things get tough, so try and work out why you really want to do this.
You’ve decided what you really want to achieve, and you know why you want to do it. Now it’s time to get clear about success will look like and feel like when you achieve this big crazy goal of yours – the more detailed and precise you can be here, the better.
You’ve probably heard about SMART goals. Your success measure does need to be specific, but doesn’t have to be something that others can measure from the outside– it might be measured by the way you feel or by enabling something else to happen as a result. If it’s about how you feel, be really clear and honest about what the feelings are that you will be having, and what difference having these feelings will make to your actions and behaviours that will show you’ve successfully achieved your goal.
Getting really clear in this way sometimes changes the goal itself, as you realise what you REALLY want to achieve – the place you want to get to – is something a little different to what you originally thought.
Now you have a big goal, and a clear idea of what it’s going to look like and feel like when you’ve achieved it. The next job is to break the big goal down into a set of mini-goals that, as you achieve them, will each take you further towards achieiving the big one. This is where you turn your goal from a dream into something achievable, and something that you’re actually committed to achieving.
You can chunk your big goal up in all kinds of ways – just make sure that each of these chunks is something quite specific, feels achievable and, most important of all, also something that you can actually control.
For example: You’ve decided you want to get fitter and lose some weight to improve your health.. You recently started running for the first time and discovered you enjoy it, so you set yourself a crazy scary goal to compete in a marathon and finish it in under 3 hours.
To achieve this big goal you might set a series of separate smaller goals in the areas of speed, distance, nutrition, equipment and confidence/mindset. These goals will also need success measures to make sure you know you’re on track and when you’ve achieved what you need to – some may have an obvious end-point signalling success, others are more likely to be about regular and ongoing performance improvement (eg “each month I will reduce my average speed per mile over 10 miles by x amount).
Once you’ve broken your big goal down into a series of smaller ones and have decided what you actually need to do to achieve each one, how you’re going to do it and when you’re going to do it – you have made a real commitment and have an action plan that you can keep checking against to see how you’re going and help you get back on course if you start to veer in a different direction.
People who commit their goals into writing are more likely to achieve them (although note that writing it down isn’t enough on its own, you still need to do the work!).
When you write down your goal, make sure you write it as something positive., that you will work towards, rather than stating something you want to stop or leave behind.
If you’re feeling really creative you could even put together a vision board for your goal!
So, what resolutions or goals are you going to set yourself for 2017?
If you’re still not sure, or reading this has inspired you to think about it in more detail than normal and you’re looking for some time to do that, why not book a place on Life Atlas Coaching’s first workshop for 2017: it is all about setting new goals and creating plans to achieve them, which we will do in a small group in the lovely surroundings of Champneys Springs Spa resort….and yes, as you’d expect from a coach that believes increating a good work-life balance, it WILL include time for you to relax and use the resort’s spa and fitness facilities!
Or, if you’d appreciate the privacy and focus of some one to one support, pick up the phone or drop me an email to find out more about how I can help you set a cracking goal (or two!) for yourself this year, make a plan, and – if you want – walk with you as you put that plan in motion and make a real difference to something in your life over the next year.
I wish you all the very best for 2017, and hope you will make this the year that you don’t just dream of change, but make it happen and make yourself happier than ever in the process.