It’s that time of year again! To set massively large, unattainable goals that leave you to spend the rest of the year feeling like a total loser when you don’t reach them.
Ah yes, the intoxicating, yet elusive new year’s resolution.
The reason resolutions are difficult for many is because people often suck at setting goals. I’ve definitely had my fair share of the sucking. But along the way, I’ve discovered a few tricks to solid resolution setting (whether at the beginning of the year or whenever you dang well please) and keeping.
Set Tiny Goals
A particular favorite of mine. Often we try too hard to do too much in too little time. We want our beach body tomorrow. We want to go from 0 to 100 yesterday. Doing this sets us up for the inevitable disappointment.
The easiest and most effective way to instead set yourself up for achievement is to know what your ultimate SMART goal is and then break it down into much tinier SMART goals that build upon one another and become habits leading toward your ultimate goal. I thought I’d written a blog post about tiny goals, but I’m having difficult finding it so I’ll revisit this in more detail soon.
For now, though all you need is a quick overview of SMART goals and how to break larger goals down into smaller ones. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. This doesn’t mean you can’t dream big, but break those big goals down to actual doable tasks.
We’ll stick with the beach body example because that’s probably the most popular new year’s resolution (I don’t actually know if this is true, but we’ll go with it.). Most of us think something like, “I want to be in better shape,” or “I want a hotter body.” Okay, great, but what does that actually mean. Do you want to weigh a certain amount? Do you want to fit into a certain size? Do you want to have a certain percentage of body fat? Do you want to be able to complete a race? Do you want to feel a certain way?
When we become more clear on exactly what we want we have our larger SMART goal. “I want to lose 20 pounds by April.” That’s specific. It’s measurable. And it’s certainly attainable, realistic, and timely given that most health experts recommend losing 1-2 pounds per week for health weight loss. So there ya go.
But then, how do you actually make that happen? This is when you break that larger goal down to as small of goals as possible. If you haven’t worked out in a year (or longer) you’re probably not going to maintain two hours a day at the gym. Some people can pull this off, but it’s rare in my experience. So maybe to start with, you commit to moving your body in some way for 15 minutes 3 days per week. Then you up that once that becomes a habit. 20 minutes a day. One exercise class per week. And you add in the nutrition part. “I want to eat healthier” rarely translates to actually eating healthier. Instead “I’m going to eat one grapefruit first thing in the morning every day” or “I’m going to add a vegetable to my dinner every night” is much more doable. And again, you continue to add onto these goals once they become habits. Next thing you know, by April you’re going to the gym 4 days per week for an hour at a time and cooking your own dinner 3 days a week. And looking H-O-T in that bikini or whatever you wear to the beach.
Also, remember even if you have a highly structured plan, life effing happens! Oh it happens. So be kind and patient with yourself if you have to adjust your goals. We can’t control everything. If we really can control anything.
Add to Your Life
We often approach goal setting from a place of lack. Of course, lack is helpful for a moment. It lets us know we want something different in life. However, that’s as helpful as lack can be. If we’re too focused on what we don’t want or have, we often find ourselves with more of that. Oh the irony!
My all time favorite new year’s resolution was when I decided to make one new cocktail per month for the entirety of 2017. I’d become enamoured by fancy pants craft mixed beverages, but not so much by their hefty prices. So I decided that once a month I was going to become a libation scientist and experiment. And experiment I did! With zero difficulty. Every month I made my cocktail. Sometimes with some advanced planning. Other times with whatever ingredients I could find at the time. I looked forward to this extra chance to be creative and found that I was quite good at mixing 18 ingredients into one delicious beverage (or more than one). My only regret is that I didn’t record any of the drinks I made. Perhaps I need to update this resolution in 2019?
While this seems like such a silly, non-life improving goal, it actually got me thinking a lot about how we set goals. We often set goals/resolutions we dread. Going to the gym when we HATE the gym. Eating healthy when we currently live off tubs of ice cream. Waking up at 5am when we hate waking up at any time. We can accomplish those same things and a lot more by setting positive goals that add to our life. No one likes to feel deprived.
So if you hate the gym, but like to dance, take a sweat-inducing dance class. If you’re addicted to processed sugar, eat one piece of sweet, but nutrient rich fruit every morning. If you want to get up earlier, but hit snooze 8 million times, set your alarm for 5 minutes earlier than you have to get out of bed and add onto that every week until you are waking up at the time you want to. When you add something enjoyable or meaningful to your life, anything unnecessary and unhelpful tends to disappear without effort.
Choose a Theme
Instead of actual concrete goals, choose a year theme for yourself. I know, I know this sounds counterintuitive to the SMART goals I just mentioned above, but can be equally effective used in conjunction or alone. The theme can be one word or a phrase, but make it something that encapsulates what you want your year to be full of.
I did this last year. I decided my theme was going to be “Ease and abundance.” That was my north star, my focus for the entire year. I set actual SMART goals along the way, but I tried to align those and myself as much as possible with my theme.
And it was quite helpful, even if not exactly in the ways I wanted it to be. Abundance overranneth my cup. This was both amazing and overwhelming. I didn’t always know which opportunities to say yes to and which to say no to. There were times when it was difficult to find clarity and balance. And ease.
Having a focus really called attention to areas of my life that needed addressing. I have a tendency to make things more challenging than necessary. And having this particular focus challenged me to look at and change beliefs, behaviors, and patterns that don’t work for me. I’d rather have billions of dollars fall out of the sky into my backyard, but it’s okay that didn’t happen last year.
Revisit Your Resolutions Often
This is very helpful in maintaining resolutions. Check on your goals often. I check on most of mine daily. I assess the progress I’m making so I can make adjustments if necessary and set new goals when old ones have been completed. Sometimes I decide a goal isn’t actually what I want in life and let go of it completely. Sometimes something entirely different shows up and I begin again from scratch. This requires a lot of self-reflection, patience, and dedication. I’m not perfect at this. Sometimes I lose sight of the bigger picture and become bogged down by the details. Or sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to the details.
Change and growth, while always positive, isn’t always fun. Stepping outside comfort zones can be awkward and uncomfortable. You don’t always see immediate results. Sometimes you don’t see much progress for months or years, but persistence and commitment are always worthwhile.
And you can say eff it to new year’s resolutions if it’s too much pressure or not for you. I don’t set them every year. But make goal setting a regular part of your life. Life is just easier and more worthwhile when you give it some direction.
This year I’ve made resolutions that incorporate all of these resolution-setting twists. I have a theme and I have SMART goals that will add worthwhile and positive things into my life. I’m also still assessing all areas of my life and the direction I want to head in, so I’m already in the process of ongoing resoluting. So overall, I’m excited for a year that is to be epic AF!