Spend any time on the internet in late December and you’re bound to find articles on New Year’s resolutions and how to make 2018 the best year yet. I’m all for optimism and cheer around New Year’s, especially since research has shown just how powerful January 1 can be. I’ve written before about how you shouldn’t wait until New Year’s to kick start your resolutions. Thinking beyond resolutions though is what is on my mind.
I unabashedly admit that I have never kept a New Year’s resolution. The longest streak was three months of exercising three days a week without fail. It was a pretty glorious time with single-minded focus on achieving a goal. Then I got the flu on a work trip, and once back home, it was all I could do to get out of bed for a while. That one hitch was all it took to derail my well-laid plans even with the best intentions.
The guilt that ensued as the exercise became more sporadic was probably the hardest part. It was suddenly so mentally difficult to pick up right where I had left off in the middle of April as opposed to January 1. And all of this was a year before my health issues really picked up steam. Exercising more is a worthwhile New Year’s resolution, in fact it’s downright one the most popular ones. Yet, what happens to one’s self-esteem if you continually fail to meet those resolutions? Do you resolve to try again next year like the majority of people? How do you actually make meaningful progress in the things that are important to you if something as simple as moving more can be a challenge?
I don’t have all the answers but I do have a clue as to how to transition to a more holistic view of resolutions in general. While setting individual goals is important, so is building your self-kindness muscles when life inevitably throws a monkey wrench into your plans. Without factoring in grace and self-compassion, we’re doomed to a vicious cycle of failure and self-loathing.
The key is to build into your goals some well-deserved wriggle room for life’s inevitable challenges. My exercise resolution went off the rails because although well meaning, lacked any flexibility. Anything less than three times a week worth of exercise, and in the morning to boot I considered a complete failure. When you fail, it’s that much harder to get back on track even though logically exercising two times a week is better than not having exercised at all.
These perfectionist tendencies can make or break any resolution as sometimes it’s easier to procrastinate or just skip whatever you were hoping to do in the first place rather than not complete it to the most exacting (and unrealistic) standards. So what should you do instead? Like I said, build in some wriggle room into your resolutions and life in general. If eating healthier is one of your goals for 2018, write down some ways that you will achieve that such as not buying any soda, or including at least one serving of vegetables or fruit at every meal.
Once you have established what your goals are, and what you would consider as having achieved them; write down some if/then statements for both achieving those goals on a weekly or monthly basis and for when life happens and you fall a little short. For example, if I exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days a week then I will purchase a cute new workout outfit every month. If I skip breakfast instead of eating a healthy meal to start the day, then I will eat a piece of fruit later instead of gorging on a bagel.
Literally writing these statements down increases the likelihood that you will succeed at reaching your goals, and also offers your psyche a self-esteem boost when you just need that extra hour of sleep and skip your morning workout. Creating if/then statements also eliminates the possible shame and guilt of falling off the wagon because you have created a plan B for precisely those situations. There’s less reason to beat yourself up over sitting on the couch for three hours watching TV if you know that the next day you’re going to skip the Netflix marathon and go for an extra-long walk around your neighborhood.
The combinations of if/then statements are essentially endless, and should be tailored to your personality and personal motivations for maximum benefit. Like those sticker charts when we were kids, except the potential outcomes are much better than a five dollar allowance.
Finally, consider sharing your New Year’s resolution with the people around you. Having accountability is a very powerful tool to achieve your goals. I posted my if/then statements on the fridge one year and it truly helped to have my husband periodically ask me whether I had done any journal writing like planned.
Getting fit, living a healthier lifestyle or being a more present human being are all truly amazing goals for 2018. Here’s wishing you much success and peace of mind in all your pursuits.