At the end of last year, I heard a lot of people saying that they don’t do New Year’s Resolutions and don’t believe in them because no one ever sticks to them. This is a fair point, but I think instead of giving up on the concept of improving your life for the new year, it might be more productive to actually examine why so many people fail at their New Year’s Resolutions and what people can do to be more successful at it. You can look at making resolutions as a quaint tradition, or you can view it as an opportunity to springboard real change in your life. While I can’t speak for others, I can certainly share my own experiences with this, as nine times out of ten, I fail at mine.
Here’s what I learned from all the New Years that I have celebrated.
Problem: A resolution that’s too vague.
What does it mean to say that you will live healthier in the coming year? What does it mean to say that you will improve your finances in the coming year? What do you mean when you say you will be a better person in the coming year?
These are all very vague resolutions and don’t give you any type of blueprint for accomplishing them. A resolution should really be a goal with a defined end result that you can measure. Vague resolutions do nothing but make you feel better on New Year’s Day only to feel worse on the next New Year’s because you didn’t keep those resolutions.
Solution: I’ve written plenty of these vague resolutions, particularly in my teens and early twenties when I had difficulty defining my goals and dreams for my life. As I get older, I recognize that in order to make changes, I have to clearly outline what I want those changes to be. Living healthier is vague, but eating a certain number of servings of vegetables every day and exercising three to five times a week is far more specific resolution that can be measured at the end of the year and even during the year to keep you on track. For any vague resolution, you should define exactly what it means to do those things and what specific steps you can take. Then make those your actual resolutions.
Problem: A resolution that is too grand.
I can’t be the only one who has ever written a resolution that simply cannot be achieved. It’s all well and good to have dreams and to reach for more than you think you can accomplish. There’s no better way to improve yourself than take on challenges that you believe are beyond your ability, because when you actually do it, you’ve proven something incredible. You aren’t bound by your own expectations.
You are, however, bound by reality. Sure, I’d love to walk on the moon, but until SpaceX starts up those starcruises, I’m going to have to settle for something a little more realistic. Making a resolution to climb Mount Everest is generally a waste of time, unless, of course, you are a mountain climber or have the time and resources to become one in a year.
When you’ve set out an unrealistic resolution for yourself, you’ve set yourself up for disappointment when December 31st rolls around and you’re looking back at the year in review. You’ve also defeated yourself before you’ve even started. I look at these types of grandiose resolutions the same way I look at lusting after celebrity super stars. These are safe resolutions, because you know that they are impossible to achieve, so when you fail, you don’t have to admit that there was something you could have done to succeed. Basically, you’ve taken the burden of action off yourself.
Solution: If you really want to make something happen in your life, don’t waste your time with resolutions that are grandiose pipe dreams. Evaluate your resolutions based on your time, ability and resources, as well as what’s possible with current technology (hurry up, SpaceX! I’m not getting any younger over here!). Choose resolutions that are attainable in the year’s timeframe. For example, saying you resolve to play in the World Series is a pipe dream (unless you’re in the Cubs, Woohoo!!!). Resolving to play in your local softball or baseball league, or coach others in your local league is a far more attainable resolution. I want to play in a world class symphony orchestra, but I’d be better off resolving to learn how to play the violin. J Maybe someday, I can achieve that first resolution, but given my one year window, I think I’d better narrow my focus.
Of course, if you don’t really care about actually doing what you’ve resolved to do, I suppose your New Year’s resolutions can be a fun game with each person adding more outlandish dreams. I still think you should make a real set of resolutions for yourself though.
Problem: Resolution burnout
So you’ve made realistic resolutions and they’re specific and detailed enough that you can measure you’re progress. Wonderful! Now comes the hard part. Going the distance.
When January 1st rolls around, people (like myself 😉 ) hit the stores and buy up a bunch of workout gear and food processors, or storage bins and cleaning supplies, filled with the energy of fresh New Year’s resolutions burning in our heads. Merchandisers know this, which is why you see all this stuff on the end caps at your local retailers. It’s no accident that exercise balls are right out front when you stumble into the store nursing your New Year’s Day hangover.
Filled with the vigor of a new year of possibilities, you dive right into working on those resolutions. Things are going great; right up until you hit a wall. It’s easy to overdo it at outset and end up burning out before you get to even enjoy the results of your efforts. This is particularly true of resolutions to get fit, but it even happens with other resolutions, like learning a new skill, breaking a bad habit, or committing to your blog ;).
Solution: One word: Pacing.
Runners do this very important thing so they can complete a race. They learn to set a pace that will carry them through the entirety of the race rather than put in maximum effort at the outset. Sure, it’s nice to zip past everyone else when that gun goes off, but energy is finite. If you don’t want to find yourself flagging before you hit the finish line, you have to learn to pace yourself. You have a year. Take that time to build up momentum. Don’t spring-clean the entire house in one weekend. Work on a closet or two at a time over the week. Don’t try to write a novel in less than a month. Set an hour or two aside each day to work on it and stop working when that time is up. Pacing can mean the difference between celebrating your successes next December or giving up by February.
Problem: Your resolution seems overwhelming
It’s achievable in one year’s time, but it’s going to take a lot of work and you don’t even know where to begin. This is the kind of resolution that I’ve written on more than one occasion. I often feel overwhelmed with the challenges I place in front of myself, never mind the ones that life places in front of me. Being a perfectionist makes this even worse, because I have an almost crippling fear of failure. I’m only functional because I push myself past this. Otherwise, I would do nothing, because then I’d never have to fail. Despite all this, overwhelming challenges do not actually make bad resolutions (as long as they’re realistically achievable, see above. 😉 ) In fact, these types of resolutions can actually be the best kind, because they push us past our comfort zone and truly effect a change in our lives. The problem isn’t whether we should tackle these challenges, but rather how we should tackle them.
Solution: Break any large task, or challenge, into smaller chunks. A mountain is climbed one step at a time. This is where you have to look away from the big picture and zero in on the parts that make it up. As a personal example, I wanted to be a published author. That was my New Year’s resolution years ago when I first published The Princess’s Dragon. That’s a huge challenge, even for a self-published author, because it involves a variety of smaller challenges. The first being to write a manuscript. 😉
There were a lot of steps on that particular mountain and some of them were simply research, not just for the book itself, but for what was involved in the process. Each of these steps is a challenge in itself and each of these steps is a goal that I’ve achieved and can be proud of. Even if you don’t achieve your ultimate resolution, when you do your evaluation at the end of the year, you have plenty to applaud yourself for.
These are some of the problems, and some of the solutions, that I’ve come across while doing New Year’s Resolutions. It is a tradition in my family, though I think many of my family members have abandoned the practice because they simply don’t stick with them. I, on the other hand, have decided to embrace this tradition, and have my resolutions posted where I can see them every day. I want to effect real change in my life, because I know that every moment is precious. I don’t want to waste it regretting that I’ve fallen into a rut that I just can’t seem to get the motivation to get out of.
If you are working on keeping your resolutions so that you’ll have something extra to celebrate for next New Year’s, good for you. If you aren’t, don’t fret. You don’t have to wait until the next New Year’s to make resolutions. Every day is an opportunity to commit to changing your life for the better. If you’re already where you want to be in life, that’s great too.
What do you think about the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions? Do you think these solutions might be helpful for people trying to keep them? Have you encountered any of these problems yourself? Let me know in the comments. I love to hear from you.