Unless you’ve been seriously planning and preparing for the change you have in mind, making New Year’s resolution can sabotage your success.
Here’s why, and what to do instead.
1.Hastily formed resolutions tend to be counterfeit goals. The goals you’re most likely to reach are the ones that come from your heart. Too often, when we set resolutions just because it’s the New Year, we’re basing them on the “shoulds,” the things we think we ought to do. We end up choosing the goals that our culture, or that a partner or parent, child or boss thinks we ought to adopt.
2.The timing is faulty. However fun they may be, the holidays take us away from our comfortable patterns and routines. They create stress—whether it’s of the positive or negative variety—and burn up a lot of energy. Trying to jump headlong into a whole new pattern of behavior plunges us into more stress and sets us up for failure.
3.They don’t allow time for thinking things through. Successful life change needs to be built on a foundation of thoughtful visualization, preparation and planning. What will you need in order to make it happen? What resources? Time? Support? Information? Where will you start? Adopting a goal to change a fundamental part of your life without this kind of preparation is like building a sand castle at the ocean’s edge. It’s sure to wash away the moment the tide turns.
4.They prompt you to take drastic action. New Year’s resolutions tend to come with a big bag of magical thinking. We expect that we’ll wake up January 1 with the power to accomplish whatever we set out minds to. Yesterday you craved chocolate. Today you can easily let it go. Yesterday you spent three hours on Facebook. Today you’ll read a book instead. You expect to be able to leap from couch potato to exercise fanatic in a single bound. But real change happens in tiny increments, one small, consistent action at a time.
5.They don’t give you a chance to form a complete picture. When you pick a resolution out of a hat at the last minute, you don’t have time to think about all the ways your life will be different or how it will effect and involve key relationships in your life. The ability to hold in your mind a vivid, well-crafted image of what it is you want to be or do is a key success factor in life change.
6.They rely too heavily on will power. Analysis of thousands of surveys of personal strengths name will power as the strength most likely to come in at the very bottom of the list. Even people who are gifted with a big helping of it need to apply additional abilities in order to achieve significant personal transformations.
7.They undermine future efforts. Because, on some level, you know our resolutions aren’t really going to work, making them is a kind of sneaky way to let yourself off the hook for planning real changes that could benefit your life. “I tried that last January,” you’ll be able to say. “It’s no use; I can’t do it.”
What to Do Instead
The New Year is a wonderful time to review your life and consider what you could do to bring more zest, joy, satisfaction and meaning to it.
The essential question to ask, of course, is “What do I really want?” And while you may not know exactly what that is or what form you would want it to take, chances are you have a general sense its direction. And that general sense is what you can profitably adopt as your guideline for the new year.
Identify what you aspire to, rather than what, specifically, you will achieve.
How to Set a Direction
In the past couple of years, I’ve experimented with choosing a key word for my year instead of setting goals. It’s an idea that I’ve noticed is catching on. It keeps you focused while allowing you a measure of spontaneity. It lets serendipity enter into the picture.
Personally, last year I decided that I wanted to encourage myself to take more risks, to be more daring. So I adopted the phrase “Why not!” And it has served me well. It’s let me try new things and to push past procrastination, fear and hesitancy when I didn’t know if I could master a challenge.
One increasingly successful man I know shared that he chose the word “Leadership” for his guide word last year. The year before, he’d chosen “Business Education.”
The word that I’ve chosen for 2014 is “mindful,” and I’m excited to see what new vistas will open for me as I let it remind me how I want to be.
You can use the list below to help you hone in on your own preferred direction, and then come up with your personal guide word from there.
When I reviewed lists of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, I discovered that they fell into twelve main categories. As you read through them, notice which ones set off a spark for you. Which ones seem to be calling to you most strongly?
- Adventure/Recreation: Have More Fun; Travel; Explore; Sports; Play
- Business/Career Development: Leadership, Productivity, Creativity, Career Change
- Community/Service: Volunteering, Political Action, Participation in Clubs, Organizations
- Family: Spend More Time With Spouse/Partner/Family
- Finances: Reduce Debt; Save More; Earn More
- Happiness: Enjoy Life More, More Down Time
- Health/Fitness: Better Diet/Exercise/Sleep/Drop Harmful Habits
- Home: Beautify/Organize
- Learning: Read More, Take Classes
- Image: Improve Wardrobe, Grooming
- Personal Development/Spirituality: Develop self-knowledge, practice self-growth techniques/enhanced spiritual awareness, spiritual/religious practice
- Social Life/Relationships: Build more, deeper friendships/More Time Enjoying with Others
Narrow your list down to about three, then choose the one that draws you most strongly. A year from now, how would you feel if you had let that category shape your life, if you had let it be your focus for the entire year? What word or phrase can you use to represent that idea for you, to set your direction for the year ahead?
Devotion, Not Discipline
“People think I’m disciplined,” said world-famous opera star Luciano Pavarotti. “It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference.”
Discipline arises from your will. Devotion comes from your heart.
When you choose a direction because it sings to you, because it shines so brightly in your mind, you can give yourself to it with a sort of consecration, a dedication based in its deep meaning for you. In the face of the inevitable setbacks and deviations from your path, devotion to your chosen direction will call you back to it.
It will bring you joy in your efforts and make your sense of purpose strong.
So if you must make a resolution at all, resolve to identify a direction to follow. Then carve out the time to discover which path most clearly calls from your heart. It can make all the difference in the world.
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Would you like some support in finding and following your direction? Let’s talk! My specialty is coaching people get to the heart of their dreams and then to make them come true.
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You may also enjoy: If Wishes Were Horses: How to Make Real Change Happen in Your Life and If You Want to Change Your Life
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