The end of the year evokes many traditions: family reunions, group parties, gift giving, charitable donations, champagne toasts and the like. They warm our heart, make us feel loved and special and are a great way to mark the passage of time. There’s one tradition that many people take on that I hope gets banished—the New Year’s resolution. I don’t believe in them for one simple reason: they don’t work.
I must admit they sound good, though. With time to reflect on the year’s accomplishments and shortfalls, it’s natural to wonder about what you can change to make the coming months more to your liking. Ten pounds less would make your clothes fit better, several thousand dollars more in your banking account would ease that monetary stress, writing that book that’s been in your mind for years would be satisfying to your soul and finding your true love would be the greatest gift of all.
So, you set out to make these dreams come true. You vow to start on January 2nd, because, after all, New Year’s Day will be spent recovering from the celebration you had the night before. You spend several days working on your goal and feel as if this is the year you’re really really going to make it.
Then life happens. Some event, perhaps even a critical remark made in passing, throws you off for a day. At first you shake it off and tell yourself you’ll be back on task the next day. Perhaps you will, for a few days; that is, until something else happens to weaken your resolve. By February 1st, chances are your New Year’s resolution will be a bittersweet memory, forgotten until next December when you vow next year will be when you’ll finally follow through and achieve what you want.
The reason these resolutions fail is because they’re often made without a plan, just a fervent hope that simply saying it or writing it down will make it true. Take, for example, one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, losing weight. Most diets are doomed to fail because they’re based on deprivation. “I’ll lose ten pounds by giving up desserts,” you tell yourself. This works until the morning you smell the delicious aromas coming out of the bakery next to your office and find yourself devouring half a dozen chocolate macarons and washing them down with an iced latte macchiato before your brain can tell you to stop.
Does all this mean you’re doomed to never succeed at anything? Not at all. If you find yourself yearning to improve an area of your life, ditch the New Year’s Resolution and try these instead.
- Find your why. What is the reason behind your goal? How much do you want it? What are you willing to do to make it succeed? Answering these questions in advance will make it clear whether what you want is nothing more than wishful thinking (I hope I win the Lottery so I don’t have to worry about money anymore) or an achievable aim.
- Make a plan. Losing weight, for example, is more than following a published diet. It’s about changing your ideas about food, discovering whether stress or boredom pushes you to eat certain foods, how your body reacts to different food groups and whether or how much exercise you need to do to help maintain your loss. The more knowledge you have about your goal, the more likely you are to stay on your plan.
- Make a schedule and keep to it. If you want to write a book, set aside a small amount of time every day for this task and follow through every day. Two pages in a half hour might not seem like much, but in a year, that yields 730 pages or a pretty hefty sized book.
- Be realistic. Make sure your goal doesn’t involve super-human powers to succeed. Losing ten pounds in a week doesn’t make sense, but ten pounds in three months is very achievable. Training for a marathon in a month is likely to end in failure but a six-month program is much more reasonable.
- Reward yourself. Break your goal into small chucks and give yourself a present when you reach those milestones. In the above examples, give yourself a (non-food) reward when you’ve lost two pounds, finished a chapter or run five miles for the first time.
- Make each day January 1st. I must give props to the writer, Cate Montana, who gave me this advice on my radio show. Even with the best intentions, there are going to be those days when you’ll want to give up on your goal. When that happens, take a deep breath and remember that great feeling of hope and optimism you had when you first decided to take up your goal. Feel yourself fill up with that determination once again. Tell yourself that you’re going to eat the proper foods or write those pages or run those miles even if you don’t feel like doing it. Tell yourself it’s the beginning of the year again, and time to renew your personal resolution. Remind yourself that if you work at this day after day you’re going to create a new habit that will become as automatic for you to do as brushing your teeth. The happy glow of achievement you feel when you do something when you don’t want to do it, will help keep you on that road to success.
- If you do all this, you’ll look back at yourself next December with the satisfaction that you’ve followed through on your desires, made positive accomplishments and be in the proper frame of mind to take on new objectives.