New Year’s Resolutions never used to work for me.
But…I was in love with the idea of them. Who wouldn’t want a fresh start in the new year? Who wouldn’t want to leave old baggage behind? Who wouldn’t want a real chance to start over? Build a new habit? Break an old pattern once and for all? So for years…no, decades, I’d get suckered in. I’d dream a fresh dream. I’d summon my courage. And I’d write out my plan:
Here’s how it’s going to be different this year.
Here’s how I’m going to change.
Here’s how I’m going to do it.
And then I would do it. (But you know what happens next.)
Sometime around March, I’d wake up to realize I’d lost track of things completely. I’d feel ashamed, and defeated, and I’d blame myself for not being strong enough, though I always suspected it wasn’t only that.
Truth is I never really knew why I couldn’t make resolutions work.
But now I do. Thanks to the principles I’ve learned in my years of coaching, I now know how to make any New Year’s Resolution succeed.
Now you can too. Ready? Here are the top 5 keys to making your New Years Resolutions actually succeed:
1. Choose only ONE goal. Making any significant change in your life takes a lot of emotional energy and mental focus. Most of us simply don’t have enough extra energy and focus to handle more than one big change in a year. Trying to make 3 significant changes in one year will tank you just as surely as trying to make 300. So pick only ONE, and make it a good one. If you have trouble deciding which one to choose, just ask yourself: “What is the one change that, if you made it this year, would make the most significant difference in your life?” Whatever the answer is, do that.
2. Make your goal POSITIVE and COMPELLING. How many times have I promised myself I’d “lose 10 pounds” this year, or “stop eating junk food”? But it never worked. Why? One reason is those are negative goals ~ i.e. goals focused on what I don’t want (extra pounds, junk food) rather than what I do want. They’re also not very compelling. I mean, how inviting and sexy does it sound to “lose 10 pounds”? Yeah, not at all.
To make a resolution succeed, it needs to be both positive and compelling. The very thought of it should get your blood going, invigorate your hope, inspire you to get out of bed and DO something about it! The 10-pound thing, for example: Why do you want to do it? For what purpose? What’s the end game here? One rule of thumb here is: NO SHOULDS. You can’t build a compelling goal around something you think you SHOULD do; it has to be built on what you really truly deeply desire.
So what’s the deep desire connected to these 10 pounds you want to lose? Maybe there’s this sexy black dress you want to wear on your birthday in November. Or maybe you want to run on the river trail downtown without your shirt on and feel great about how you look. Find that compelling vision and make that the resolution.
Resolved: On my birthday this year (November 19th), I will throw a big party with all my friends and family there, and I will wear that sexy black dress I wore back in college and celebrate how good it feels to be in a trim, healthy body.
3. Set up a Learning Loop. For a full description of what this is and how to do it, just click here, but here’s the gist: Nobody climbs Everest in one big push. You do it in stages. You train for each one, and you learn as you go. “Learn as you go” means you pause regularly to examine your performance, notice where you’re gaining ground, what’s tripping you up, and make changes in your strategy to do better next time. To summit your personal Everest, you need to be smart about it. You need to go slow, take small steps, not big leaps. And most important, you need to become a student of your own change process. There’s not a professional team out there that doesn’t do post-game reviews of their performance in each game. So be a professional on behalf of your own dream. Examine your progress from week to week: What’s helping you succeed? What tripping you up? What could you do differently next week to make it easier to move forward?
4. Invite High Accountability. Everybody loves the Lone Ranger story, right? It’s part of the mythic fabric of our culture. We all want to be that singular hero who overcomes overwhelming odds to beat the enemy on his own. But when it comes to real life resolutions, Lone Rangers suck. And, they fail. Every single time.
When it comes to your goal, never (and I mean NEVER) go it alone. I cannot stress this enough. If you try to do this by yourself, your chances of failure are very very high. We humans are made for community, and we thrive best in that context, especially when we’re trying to make a significant change in our lives.
Who are your three closest friends? Tell them about your goal. If appropriate, invite them to do it with you, or if not, ask them to support you by holding you accountable as you work toward your goal. Make this request specific, and give it teeth. For example, if you need to workout 3 times a week for the next 12 weeks in order to be ready for that shirtless victory run by the river, then report to your friends every time you complete a workout, and if you fail to do one, pay them each $300.
Now that got your attention, didn’t it? It all comes down to how committed you are to making your resolution real.
5. Never use shame to punish or motivate yourself. Have you ever beat yourself up emotionally for not following through on something you said you’d do? That’s shame in action, and hey, we’ve all been there. Chances are we all know a lot more about shame than we realize, because we’ve probably been using it to some extent all our lives to try to get ourselves to change in some way.
But the problem with using shame as a motivator, besides the fact that it’s a lousy way to treat anyone (including yourself), is that it doesn’t work. Shame is founded on the premise that you suck and are worthless and can never do anything right, and the fact is you will never reach your goal with that as your premise. Nobody ever became an Olympic athlete, or a beautiful dancer, or a terrific mom, through negative self talk. It just doesn’t work, because the very premise of negative self-talk (shame) is that you are incapable, and hopeless, and can never get it right. Trying to use shame to motivate positive change is like trying to get an athlete to run faster by breaking his legs.
So if not shame, then what? Love. You have to love yourself. That means you have to believe in yourself, perhaps more than you ever have in your life. To get where you want to go, you have treat yourself with the same level of kindness and compassion you would someone you love with all your heart. Your self talk must be positive, full of empathy and courage, and faith in the inevitability of your own victory. When you fall, or fail, it’s self-compassion, not self-judgment, that will empower you get up and go after it again. We all want someone to believe in us. Start by believing in yourself.
These 5 keys only work if you DO them. It’s one thing to dream about a change. It’s quite another thing to do it.
Are you ready to act?
If you’d like help implementing these 5 keys into your life this year, drop me a line and let me know. I’ll meet with you for an hour ~ no charge ~ to help you make this year the year change really happens.
But, only contact me if you’re really serious, and ready to take action to make change real.