It’s that time of year again. Time to look back at the past year and think about our lives.
How can we start fresh this year? What can we do better or differently? How can we be buffer, smarter or sexier?
A lot of us make grand promises to ourselves about how this year we’re going to work out 2 hours a day, learn 3 languages, do a triathlon and Tough Mudder, and also learn to cook a perfect souffle in our spare time.
Sadly, many of these noble goals fall to the wayside as the reality of the daily grind sets in. Is it because we didn’t have the drive? Or did we just choose our resolutions poorly?
Everyone is different, but here are a few things you can do to make your resolutions work harder for you…and to make you work harder for your resolutions:
1. Think of resolutions as a time-machine
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the more resolutions you pile on your list, the less likely it is that you’ll get all—or even any—of them done. You’ve got to focus on the highest priority goals: pick 3 or fewer for maximum focus.
So you how do you decide what should go on that list?
One cool thing about resolutions is that you can look at them like a time machine—a time machine that’s specifically designed to eliminate regret. When you look back at last year, is there something that you really wished you had done? There’s probably a few things, but as you look back, the really important things will rise to the top.
And the beautiful thing is that unless you are certain that you are going to depart this mortal earth soon, guess what? You’ve been given a second chance to do those things that you didn’t do last year.
Sounds obvious, I know. But think of it like this: as you’re looking back at what you regret not doing from last year, it’s basically like you’ve been transported back in time to last year, and you get a whole other chance to re-do it. Sure, it’s a year later, but most of the time that’s not going to make a difference. It’s rarely too late to start doing the right thing.
2. Start small
I wrote about this same idea a few years ago. But it’s so important to goal-setting that it absolutely bears repeating.
The biggest mistake most people make with their resolutions is starting too big. They think that they can somehow shock their willpower into compliance by jumping directly into the deep end of their goals. After not doing a single vinyasa in months, they decide that as of January 1st, they will be doing yoga every morning for 2 hours.
Usually this enthusiasm lasts for a few days, maybe even a week, before they fall off the wagon and go back to their old routine. But why? They were so gung ho—shouldn’t that help them get over the hump? Actually, no. There’s a lot of literature that suggests that starting small is the way to go.
In his blog Zen Habits and book The Power of Less, Leo Babauta talks about how the best approach is to begin by setting ridiculously small goals for yourself. Your ultimate goal can be working out 2 hours every day. But if you start small—even 2 minutes a day—you make it nearly impossible not to meet your daily goal.
Gradually you increase the time until before you know it…voila, you’ve achieved your real goal.
It sounds silly, but this approach works because it sets up a positive feedback loop for yourself. Each day that you hit your goal, you are encouraged to continue on. And best of all, this approach helps you build the habit slowly and sustainably, without the shock of trying to go balls out from the get-go.
3. Build in some healthy peer pressure
You’re more likely to stick to your goals if you’ve made a public declaration of what they are.
This could be as easy as having a shared goal with someone like a workout buddy who’s going to give you shit if you don’t keep up your end of the bargain. Or, it could take the form of you posting your intentions on Facebook or hanging up a sign in your home so your roommates or loved ones are aware of your goals.
Doing this is good for a number reasons: obviously, there’s the likelihood that someone who’s aware of your goal will call you out if you are slacking off. “Hey, I could have sworn you said you were going to read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy by next Thursday. How’s that going for you?” But also, research suggests that stating your intentions may have other benefits as well.
In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini cites experiments that show that the mere act of declaring your goals aloud (or in writing) makes you more likely to follow through with them.
Finally, the other obvious benefit of telling people about your goals is that it forces you to be clear about them. If you never bother to articulate your goals, they are far less likely to materialize. As the saying goes, “vague plan=vague results.” Talking to others about your goals may also force you think twice about just how worthy or realistic they are in the first place.
So, what things have helped you with your New Year’s resolutions? Add a comment below!
Note: the links to the books above are Amazon affiliate links, so I get a small commission (at no extra charge to you) if you buy them. However, I only recommend books that I absolutely believe in, and would recommend them regardless.
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