There’s nothing quite like a new year to bring out the lofty ambitions. We’re refreshed and rested after some time off for the holidays, and January 1 feels like the right time for a fresh start. But sadly, New Year’s resolutions have become almost a joke in our culture. The regular attendees at the gym who can’t wait for all the newbies to quit in a couple of weeks and get off the exercise equipment. The mom who was determined to eat healthier but gets derailed by all that Valentine’s Day candy on sale. The aspiring novelist who runs out of steam before the month is out.
I’m convinced our own inertia and human nature conspires against us. It does for me, at any rate. It’s always easier to slide backward than continue trudging up hill. I keep picturing a gymnast doing a dismount off the vault or uneven bars. So much of their success is based on how well they stick the landing, and yet–it’s so hard to do.
How can we make our resolutions stick for longer than a couple of weeks?
So glad you asked! Because I know it’s possible. Just take a look around at the amazing things people accomplish–even “ordinary” people you know. Running marathons, losing thirty pounds, changing careers, writing books, finishing college degrees, traveling the world, quitting smoking, becoming more patient with their kids… How did they do it?
I can’t speak for them, but today I’ve got seven tips for you to consider that have helped me reach some of my goals.
1. Choose something you can control.
First up, when you’re creating your resolutions, make sure you pick something you can (reasonably) control. Don’t say, “I’m going to win that award” or “be the strongest one at the gym” or “get a six-figure book contract.” That’s stuff you can’t control, because it’s based on other people’s opinions and actions.
Instead, say something like, “I’m going to boost my sales average by 5%” or “run a 5k in under 25 minutes” or “write the first draft of my novel.” These goals are things you can attain through your own efforts, which means the only person who can stand in your way is you.
2. Break it down into smaller goals.
Depending on how big your resolution is, it’s helpful to break it down into smaller goals. If you want to run a marathon in October, but you can barely make it a mile right now, how will you get up to 26.2 in ten months? If you want to write a novel by next Christmas, how many words a week do you need to get there? If you’re determined to “eat healthier,” what exactly will that entail? Do a little research to figure out what steps you’ll need to take to get to your end result.
Many of us fail because we go for something so big we have no idea how to actually accomplish it. Breaking down the big goal into less scary, bite-sized chunks makes it seem possible. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. If you’re serious about accomplishing whatever your resolution is, you need to be serious about the little changes or steps that will get you there.
3. Be realistic about your schedule.
There are only 24 hours in a day, and odds are most of your hours are already filled. We don’t burst into a new year with a sudden gift of extra time (unfortunately). So as you’re thinking about setting your small goals and making the necessary changes to your schedule, be realistic about what you can do.
You might have to backtrack and reevaluate the resolution. Maybe you can’t dedicate two hours a day to running. Maybe instead of shooting for a marathon in the fall, a 10k would be more reasonable. Or maybe you work full time and have kids, and switching over to cooking every meal at home would be so stressful you’d want to quit after two days. Maybe instead you could look for healthier semi-homemade options, or cut back to fast food once a week instead of three times. Better to meet a smaller goal than give up on a big one.
4. Make friends with deadlines.
One thing I’ve figured out in my writing is that I get waaaay more accomplished when I have a deadline. Even if it’s a “soft,” self-created deadline. Deadlines provide a sense of clarity and focus that is often missing when we can take the rest of our lives to accomplish a task.
So, create a schedule for yourself, whether it’s exercising or eating healthier or writing a book. Go back to your list of smaller goals and set a time-frame for when you’ll accomplish each of them. Even if it’s loose, like “I’ll spend January swapping out my regular carbs for whole grains” or “I’ll spend the winter outlining my novel.” Getting a step closer to your goal will help you keep going.
5. Figure out what motivates you.
If whatever you’ve resolved to do was easy, you’d probably have done it by now, right? Overcoming our inertia takes effort, and the bigger the change, the harder it is. That’s where motivation comes in.
For some people the sheer act of checking off a task feels good enough they’re inspired to keep going. For others, though, some external motivation might be necessary, especially on days where you don’t see any point in what you’re trying to do. This motivation could come in several forms:
- accountability partner: maybe a personal trainer, writing critique partner, or friend who’ll keep you on task
- an image or description of your dream result to keep where you can see it: maybe a new outfit, a picture of a runner, or a mock-up of your book cover
- rewards for meeting your goals: anything from new pens or stickers or a new coffee mug all the way up to a celebratory vacation
6. Create healthy habits.
The good news is, the longer you can stick with your new resolution, the more likely it is to become a habit. And once it’s a habit, you won’t have to fight so hard to motivate yourself. Before long, exercising or making healthy food choices or writing every day will be a given. You’ll wonder why you ever struggled to do those things.
It’s important, though, if you’re making long-term changes, to make sure your new habits are healthy. Guard and protect the good things you already have in your life as you try to incorporate something new.
7. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.
While life circumstances can and do get in the way of what we want to achieve, ultimately whether or not we stick to our resolutions comes down to will power. I believe that we can accomplish amazing things, but every single day we have to choose to keep pushing for it.
Nobody is going to make you do it. You have to make yourself. How badly do you want this new thing? Why? What difference will it make in your life? Write your answers down, keep them close, remember them. Because you will feel like quitting. But if you’re convinced this resolution is worth keeping, and that it’ll make a huge difference in the quality of your life, then you’ll have all the internal motivation you need to make it happen.
So…what kind of lofty ambitions are you chasing in 2019? I’ve got a few for my writing life. I want to submit my work to more contests and agents. I’ve got a first draft to finish and another one to revise. I plan on creating an author newsletter and cleaning up my author Facebook page to make it more usable. I’d like to attend another writers’ conference, but that’s more of a wish than a true goal at this point. I’m working on turning these ambitions into focused, achievable goals, but more than anything, I’m excited to see what 2019 brings.
Feel free to leave a note and share what you’re hoping to accomplish, and Happy New Year!
Image credit: Pexels.com, CC0 license.