It’s the last day of 2013, and a lot of people are making new year’s resolutions. A few days from now, a large percentage of people will break their resolutions or just forget about them. Why are resolutions so hard to keep?
One reason may be that we make resolutions that are too hard to achieve. Say you want to lose weight. Which resolution do you think you can keep? The one that says you will try to lose 5 pounds a month or one that says you want to lose one hundred pounds? If you want to make changes, you’ve got to start small and be specific. Small, specific incremental goals are much easier to attain.
Another reason is that people make the wrong resolutions. They make a resolution that sounds good, but when push comes to shove, they find that they aren’t 100% committed to that particular goal. Or they would love to achieve the goal, but they aren’t committed to all the work they will have to do in order to get there. You have to make resolutions with your eyes wide open in terms of exactly what is going to be required to meet your goal. In other words, as my friend Cecily says, “How are you going to execute that?”
A third reason why resolutions get thrown out before January is done is that people don’t build accountability into their resolutions. You have to tell people what your goal is, and you have to find a way to measure your progress. You have to have people who will bug you a bit about getting your goal accomplished. And you have to have people who will support you and motivate you.
I’ve written about this before, but there’s something called decision fatigue that scientists are studying now. It appears that the more little decisions we have to make each day, the tireder we get, and the less likely we are to follow up on new things. That’s a good reason for us to limit our resolutions and to get started on one to the point where our new choices are automatic before we add another resolution.
Most of the time we think in terms of all or none. Either we keep our resolutions or break them, forgetting that even if we “break” our resolutions, we may have made some progress along the way. In that sense we set ourselves up for failure. Slow and steady progress, what the Japanese call kaizen, is actually a better idea.
There’s a snowball effect when a minor lapse turns into a major one. We go on a diet and then have one cookie. Then we decide that since we’ve already gone off our diet, we might as well have a milkshake, too. Instead of saying, “OK, I had one cookie, that was delicious. Now back to the diet,” we just quit in disgust and feel defeated.
People shoot themselves in the foot all the time by dwelling on setbacks rather than recognizing progress. Lots of dieters beat themselves up about that one cookie, instead of remembering that they have already lost 20 pounds.
Another problem has to do with priorities. I was once asked to list my priorities in this life and I wrote that my number one priority was spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I was in a workshop for people who wanted to lose weight. The presenter told us that if losing weight wasn’t our number one priority, we would never succeed in losing weight. Whatever your goal is, it has to be your number one priority, at least, for now.
Many people make resolutions that sound great, but they never answer the question of why they want to achieve that particular resolutions. If you don’t know why you’re doing something, you won’t be able to give yourself that pep talk when you need it the most. There has to be a reward in place, somewhere, and just like the goal, it has to be a reasonable thing. For example you may want to get that book written that you’ve always wanted to write, but if you’re doing so that you will be rich and famous, you might be disappointed, even if you manage to get it published.
Finally, most people don’t actually work quite hard enough to bring their resolutions to fruition. They might go on a diet, but allow themselves too many treats a little too often. You’ve really got to go above and beyond in order to achieve success.
Now, to turn these into a positively stated to-do list:
1. Make a small, specific goal that is do-able.
2. Find out just how much effort you will have to make to achieve your goal, and be sure that you are committed to making that effort.
3. Make yourself accountable. Make sure your progress is measurable and share your goals with other people. Find mentors and supporters.
4. Limit yourself to one resolution at a time.
5. Think in terms of making steady, incremental progress, rather than getting to a far-off goal.
6. Pick yourself up after a lapse and get back into the new routine.
7. Keep track of your progress, rather than your setbacks.
8. Re-arrange your priorities so that your resolution is your number one priority.
9. Make a list of two or three reasons why you are giving yourself this challenge. What will the reward be? How much better will you feel? What will you be able to do at some point that you can’t do now?
10. Be prepared to go above and beyond the minimum amount of effort required to complete the goal.
Best wishes! 🙂