What if five minutes changed the course of your year?

My friend Danielle, frolicking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

I get it, New Year’s resolutions are the worst. They rarely pan out (1/3 don’t even make it to February) and they’re typically a reminder of what you’re failing at (or more accurately, what society says you’re failing at).

New Year’s resolutions are wrought with disappointment, shame, and the uncomfortable feeling of “committing” to something you don’t actually want to do.

But despite being burned by Januarys past, the new year rolls around and we inevitably feel compelled to start anew — and it’s to our benefit to ride this motivation wave and take advantage of our inspired energy.

So how do we make the most out of our New Year’s motivation?

If you feel inclined, find some paper — or your phone’s notepad — and take five minutes to put some intention and planning behind your resolution (and bonus! if you write this stuff down, you can refer back to actually measure your progress).

Clarify your vision & choose a goal you actually want to do.

There are a couple of things here. One — while you reflect on the vision you have for the next year, make sure you discriminate between what is actually important to you vs. what is important to others or society. Ask yourself, how do I want my life to be better or different in a year from now? Why is this valuable to me? What do I need to do to get there?

A good litmus test is whether or not you feel truly energized and excited to work towards your goal. If you feel dread — that’s not it. Our brain is programmed to avoid suffering, so goals that don’t feel good will promptly get the boot.

Tap into the natural flow of what you want to do, not the upstream current of what you “should do.”

And two — be mindful of competing motivations in your life. Does your vision align with your current priorities? We only have so much time and motivation to devote to obligations or projects, so if your goal doesn’t align with your priorities, it will also get the boot.

For example, I recently had a flash of inspiration to be a crafty person and learn how to sew. I got all excited and purchased a sewing machine and took a sewing class —and then never sewed anything. Turns out, sewing is not important to me right now. Maybe when I have kids or redecorate but right now — sewing, you get the boot.

Don’t waste your precious energy on things you don’t actually want to do (and also, don’t feel bad about it).

Distill your focus & do the first small thing.

Your vision may seem big and hairy and filled with lots of things you need to do. This can lead to doing all the things but none of them well — or doing nothing at all!

Don’t multitask when it comes to pursuing your vision and don’t back away from the mountain that looms — focus on a specific goal and take the first small step up the path.

Try to articulate your goal in a short sentence to anchor and focus you throughout the year (e.g. “gain more confidence at work”, “feel better in my body”, “be kind”). Then, come up with a discreet, non-threatening habit that supports your goal.

Non-threatening habits should be SMART and totally do-able (e.g. committing to reading one page a night if you want to start reading more books).

When you focus on a small “keystone habit”, you start to build a foundation that is ripe for other healthy habits to flourish and you gain the capacity to make further change.

Don’t worry about achieving your ultimate vision — just start small and let the rest fall into place.

Set up an environment that supports your success.

Your environment is very, very important to your success. We are creatures of habit and ease so if your environment encourages the habits you want to change, you will end up in a losing battle with your primitive brain.

The classic example is not keeping junk food in the house. I can have all the good intentions in the world — but if I come home from a long day of work stressed out, exhausted, and hungry — those crunchy, salty Goldfish beckoning from the cupboard will not be successfully ignored.

Take a look at your environment and see what tweaks you can make to support your goals.

First and foremost, remove all opposing triggers or temptations (like the junk food example).

Then, make your new habit as easy as possible. Remove barriers (organize your kitchen so pots and pans are easier to access), leverage visual reminders (place your gym bag next to your door), and make difficult decisions easy (pre-plan your virgin drink order if you’re cutting back on drinking).

The less mental friction, the easier the task.

So, perhaps you’re still rolling your eyes about resolutions— and I get that, I really, really do. But if you’re serious about making a change this year, take advantage of the natural motivation you have right now and don’t leave it up to chance.

Five minutes of reflection and planning can be the difference between who you are now and who you are next year — and good luck!

Easy goal-setting formula:

This year I want to…

This is important to me because…

To achieve this I need to…

The discreet non-threatening habit(s) I will commit to are…

The things I need to do to prepare for these habits are…