It’s nothing new that every year that passes forms a convenient benchmark for reflection on the past 365 days and preparation for the next 365. It’s logical, seeing how as a society we use years as measurements (think once yearly birthdays, holidays, doctor’s appointments, etc). Thus, true to form, the New Year has become associated with both looking back on the recent past and looking forward to prepare for the future.
Personally, I have mixed feelings on New Year’s Resolutions. I believe that each day is a chance to reflect and set future goals; why should I wait a whole year before doing so? We put so much emphasis on setting “resolutions” on one day out of the whole year that most of the time it ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle of disappointment, self-doubt, and frustration, ultimately culminating in a goal often left unachieved and a self-esteem knocked down to boot. Yet, I understand the convenience of a New Year and new date to set goals. Given that, how can you then set them to avoid that negative cycle?
It is virtually impossible to create a goal for yourself that is exactly perfect, reasonable, and realistic for yourself in one try. Goal-setting is a constant revision process, reliant on trial and error to determine the best possible course of action and alterations to make that possible. Year after year you hear countless stories of failed New Year’s Resolutions (yet again), yet year after year people continue to make them. Self-help articles encourage you to “stick to your goal!” “Don’t give up!” “Stay strong!” So you follow their directions, stubbornly setting a resolution and setting yourself to a standard of perfection in meeting it.
The reality is that meeting goals is far from imperfect. No one who ever began a change-process stayed on one course the entire time. Rather, the most successful are the ones who set something preliminary, try it, and then change it up to suit their needs based off of the results. Think of it in another context. Let’s say someone, John Doe, is having back pain. He goes to the doctor, wanting a way to control it. The doctor examines him and says, “I’m going to prescribe you this pain medication to take that will help. Feel better, and see me in a year.” So John picks it up at his pharmacy and starts taking it as directed. After two weeks, he realizes that the medication makes him extremely nauseas to the point that he throws up. Yet, he reminds himself that the doctor gave him rules: take the meds and come back in a year. So he suffers for the next 4 months with nausea. Eventually, it gets so bad that he gives up and just stops the medication altogether. The nausea stops, but the back pain comes back worse than ever. When he sees the doctor at the one-year mark, he is back where he started.
I’ll guess that while you were reading that you were silently telling John that it didn’t have to be that way- that he should have gone back to the doctor when he first got a stomach ache and asked if there were a different medication or solution that may not have the same effects. I don’t doubt that any one of you reading this would agree that medical diagnoses aren’t always right on the first try, and sometimes it takes one or two trials to find a treatment method that works for the patient. This probably seems like common sense to you from an outside perspective, but to John, he might argue that his doctor had created a plan and instructions that he was to follow, so he did not want to deviate from that. He’ll say that as time passed and he kept experiencing problems, he got frustrated and upset because he was doing everything the doctor told him to do to a T, but it didn’t seem to be working on him at all. So he stopped. It became too much to handle, too overwhelming, too incompatible with his life, too ineffective. He lost his motivation to pursue an answer.
While this is a dramatic example, it parallels directly with what I see so often with “New Year’s Resolutions.” The hype of the New Year and burst of determination triggered by the possibility of a “clean slate” motivates so many individuals to set goals for themselves. With all the articles that get released around the years’ end with instructions on proper goal setting and SMART goals, chances are that if they choose to set one, they’ve come up with a pretty solid plan that they one hundred percent think they can execute. That’s like John Doe, getting his prescription and instructions from the doctor: Hopeful and confident that it will work.
Where I believe Resolution-ers get stuck is not in their intention, their goal, or their plan. It is in their reaction to unexpected roadblocks. John did okay for a while, before he discovered he got nauseas. Many people start off their goals incredibly well! But life never goes according to plan. Things always come up unexpectedly, or have a greater impact on one’s life than one thought. Perhaps it’s a change in schedule that makes your goal of working out in the morning more difficult. Maybe you learn that you just can’t manage making an elaborate meal every night for dinner. Maybe you are so tired at night that you keep leaving your journal unopened. Whatever comes up, you realize that something you thought was a good idea at one time just isn’t happening. You experience the resolution “side effects.” Like John, so many view roadblocks as signs that they simply aren’t good enough, they don’t deserve to succeed at this resolution, they are doomed to accept that their desired change is just not possible. Like John, so many end up petering out until before they know it, their goals have disappeared from their minds and they succumb to sticking it out until the next year, hoping “something will be different.”
I myself am a guilty party of this on countless occasions. Take last year, when I bought myself a “line a day” notebook diary. Yeah, I wrote in it about 5 times before that ended, even though I truly wanted to start that habit! That’s just one example of many. Frustration and eventual cessation are natural reactions to challenges. So the question to ask ourselves becomes “How can I set myself up for success in order to stay working towards this goal?”
Let’s find the answer by taking another look at our friend John Doe. I doubt that anyone would have recommended that he simply stop his medication when it made him sick and wait a year for another attempt. More likely, you would have recommended that he call his doctor back and explain the problem, asking if there were an alternate solution. In other words, you would advise him to re-evaluate.
In the exact same way, I encourage you to approach your goals as you would John’s situation. Like his desire to get rid of back pain, John’s intentions were totally logical and beneficial to his overall well-being. Whether your goal is physical, mental, emotional, social, or professional, I’ll bet your intentions are also logical and beneficial to your well-being. Instead of letting them slide, keep at them! Re-evaluate. The problem doesn’t lie with you, it just lies with your action plan and approach. Everything needs tweaking, even resolutions. Every once in a while, check in with yourself and see how you are doing. What is standing in the way of reaching your goal? Why? How can you alter your action plan to get around that obstacle?
How exactly to do that? Let’s take a look again at a few of my examples. So, say your goal to work out in the morning has been hampered by a change in schedule that cuts your morning time in half. Try altering the goal just a little. Maybe switch your time to an hour in the afternoon or at night instead, or combine a mid-day walk outside with a shorter, 20 minute morning tabata. You’re still working towards your goal, it’s just a little different than originally planned! Example #2: You’ve been majorly inspired by the incredible recipes on Food Network and your goal was to improve your cooking repertoire by making a home meal from scratch every night for dinner, but you’re finding that you’re just too busy to do so. Try adjusting to focusing on shorter, 20-30 minute quick dinners most days, and pick out one extravagant one a week instead. You get a win-win, because you still get to cook but you also will be even more excited to make the meal each week because you’ll have planned for and looked forward to it! What a great way to even add on to the goal, and begin planning a friends’ night or a weekly family sit-down so everyone can enjoy your efforts! See how such small fixes dramatically changed these situations? Here’s just one last example to round this out (third one’s the charm right?): mine.
I told you guys about the failed “one line a day” journal attempt last year, right? Well, here’s how I modified it for this year. If I were to go by my own advice, I should have modified it much earlier than this, but at least it’s happening at all. Basically, I learned three things: 1. Every day is just too much for me to do, 2.What I ended up writing wasn’t meaningful enough to motivate me to continue, and 3. I had zero accountability. So this year, things are different. Firstly, I changed the timing of my goal to once a week. That gives me a lot more flexibility to time out my journaling. Secondly, I decided to use a resource that would help keep my responses meaningful, rather than just entries like “It rained today. Yuck.” I purchased a book called “The 52 Lists Project,” that gives me a weekly prompt. (Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com/52-Lists-Project-Journaling-Inspiration/dp/1632170345) That will inspire me to think and reflect, and help give me ideas. Thirdly, I recruited others to help me with accountability. What better way to accomplish a goal than to do it with other people? I posted about my goal on Facebook, asking if anyone wanted to do it with me and share answers! So far, I have about 7 people in a group who have committed! We will all stay on track together. Not only will this help me practice a consistent journaling and reflection routine, but it will create a community of individuals that I can discuss with. I am always working on allowing myself to be more vulnerable, and what better way than total honesty with friends and acquaintances? This group has the added benefit of connecting people from all over the world! I have friends not just in my town, but also in other states in the USA, and even other countries! We are all ages, as well, and I can’t wait to see how each of our unique perspectives and life experiences play into this weekly commitment.
And of course, if it doesn’t end up working exactly as planned, I will take my own advice and re-evaluate. I hope you will do this too with your own goals this year. Happy 2017! Stay awesome, my friends!
P.S. Join my 52 Lists Project! Comment or message me your email (if you have one, a gmail account works best with google docs but others are good too) and I will add you to the google group!