I know, New Year’s resolutions are the worst. They rarely pan out (1/3 don’t even make it to February) and leave you feeling like a failure because of it.
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.
- Clarify your vision & choose a goal you actually want to do.
When 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 or important to me?
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.”
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).
2. 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. Don’t attempt to do all the things and burn out by Feb. 1 — focus on a specific goal and take the first small step.
Articulate the essence of your goal (e.g. “gain more confidence at work”, “feel better in my body”, “be kind”). Then, come up with a discreet plan that moves you one step closer.
Your plan should be specific, meaningful, realistic, and time-bound (e.g. “I will reach one page every night before bed for 2 months” instead of “I want to read more”).
When you focus on a small specific habit, you gain the capacity to make progress and make further change.
Don’t worry about achieving your ultimate vision right away — start small and let the rest fall into place.
3. 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 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:
Vision: This year I want to…
Meaning: This is important to me because…
Discreet Action: To achieve this I need to…
Prepare your environment: To make it super easy, I will…