I stopped making new year’s resolutions a long time ago. Even when I was running a successful full-time Life Coaching practice, helping people to achieve their goals, I was very clear that I don’t care much for new year’s resolutions.
I do, of course, fully support any effort to make positive changes in one’s life; I just think there are better ways than the traditional “From 1st January, I will…” approach.
What’s wrong with resolutions?
1. The Willpower Factor
I already covered off in a previous post that most people choose to make sweeping life changes on the first day of the new year, and outlined all the reasons why this is not a wise idea according to the latest research on willpower. In a nutshell, willpower is a finite resource so if you attempt to make too many changes at once, you’re more likely to deplete your resources. Starting slowly and building new habits that become so routine they no longer require a lot of willpower is a much more effective approach to making long term change.
2. All or nothing
A resolution, by definition, is a statement of resolve. I resolve to either do something or not do it, commencing 1st January (or whatever date you choose). Stating your intention in such absolute terms only allows for passing or failing. If you resolve to go to the gym three times per week, as soon as you miss a session you’ve broken your resolution. Many people slip up on their way to achieving goals and this is no sign of failure – in fact, it can be a great opportunity for learning and growth – but resolutions don’t allow for slip ups. The feelings of discouragement (and accompanying negative self-talk) make it difficult to pick up where you left off, which is why many people have shelved their resolutions by mid-January only to bring them out and dust them off again on January 1st next year.
3. The laundry list of resolutions
“Get fit, get out of debt, drink less, eat better….” *yawn*.
It’s a long, boring list only serving to highlight all your perceived inadequacies and there isn’t very much inspiring about that!
Combined with the high probability of breaking all those resolutions due to points 1 & 2, people find themselves by mid-January adding lack of self-discipline to their list of (supposed) faults. It’s a lose-lose.
An alternative approach
I’d like to share my preferred options when it comes to planning what I’d like to achieve in the coming year.
1. Get clear on your intentions.
Living with intention every day is more likely to take you closer to the life you want to create than any list of goals.
You might, for example, have an intention to live more simply. Or more sustainably. Your intention might be to foster more authentic social connections, or stretch yourself and step out of your comfort zone.
Living with intention cuts through the to-do list of goals and requires you to get clear on your values.
From values and intentions, goals and actions emerge very organically. For example, if your intention is to nurture social connections, you might be inclined to cut back on social media and make more effort to have real conversations with people in your life. Your decision and action is inspired by an authentic value whereas creating a new year’s resolution to ‘spend less time on Facebook’ is unlikely to stick.
2. Choose one word.
I first read about this approach several years ago in this blog post and I’ve chosen a word every year since. Your word for the year can encompass many different life domains and represents a kind of ‘theme’ or thread that weaves through all areas of life and influences your decisions and actions. Some of my favourite words over the years have been Compassion, Courage, Simplify, Unsubscribe and Balance.
3. One Year From Now.
When it comes to setting goals, imagine yourself a year from now looking back on what you’ve achieved. Decide on the specific accomplishments that are most important to you and that are likely to make you feel proud and satisfied. Then wind back. How will that look in six months if you’re on track to your best outcome. How will it look in three months.
It can be fun to make a vision board either in real life or on Pinterest to bring your goals to life and add a sense of excitement.
You might have personal, family, financial and business goals. Make them specific and write them down so you can refer back on your progress throughout the year. Give yourself a full year to map out a course for achieving these things. Nothing magical needs to happen on 1st January; so you don’t have to try to achieve everything all at once; and there are no resolutions to be broken.
Sometimes at the end of the year, I find there are some goals that aren’t achieved or only partially achieved. Regardless, I know that by writing down my objectives for the year and systematically working towards them, I have achieved far more than I would have had I not set any goals at all.
A life lived with intention, values, a sense of purpose and clearly defined goals is far more likely to bring you success and fulfillment than another year of procrastinating on what’s most important to you. But if you have a long trail of broken new year’s resolutions in your past, maybe it’s time to try a new approach.
Do you make resolutions? I’d love to hear what works for you.