We all know the drill. As one year draws to a close, a new one begins, and with it comes the promise of Radical Transformation. New year? New you!
So we scheme and we strive. We make lists. We concoct new patterns of behaviors that will upend everything we ever thought we knew about ourselves. We’ll engage in new hobbies (or so we tell ourselves). Read Proust. Start the gym membership.
And by the end of January the gyms are empty.
I’m hardly the first person to suggest that this system is broken, but I have one that’s been working for me for years – and I want to share it with you here in case it might work for you, too.
Part of the reason why the traditional approach to new years’ resolutions doesn’t work for most people is because the emphasis is on starting the behavior but not on following through. We expect immediate results, and then lose momentum when we aren’t gratified quickly enough.
But what if I were to tell you that you can have what you want if you’re willing to wait for it?
Would it be worth it to you? What if the best thing that could ever happen in your life could only be attained via the metaphorical equivalent of putting something into a dutch oven and slow-roasting it for six hours?
Isn’t your success worth more time than it takes to cook a Big Mac?
My approach to new years resolutions involves delayed gratification (sorry). It includes creating goals and then being realistic about how long it’ll take to achieve them. It requires, as a matter of course, the entire year. The good news, however, is that the method is simple, and it’s been serving me for more than a decade.
Here’s how it works:
Imagine that it’s December 31st – next year. You’re reviewing your year, and counting your blessings for what you’ve created, accomplished, and attained.
Now, what does that really look like?
Also, what would your entire life look like if you assumed that it would take twelve months to truly transform something about yourself? How would you set markers, or chart your progress?
In order to complete this task you need to make an assessment of your life as it currently stands – and this means being honest with yourself.
It also means exercising self-compassion, because it can be hard for us to be truly honest with ourselves without judgment – but the judgment doesn’t serve us, it only shuts us down.
My suggestion to you is that you give yourself an honest appraisal of what is and is not working in your life, as well as what you really want, so that you can set about creating a (short, ideally) list of things that you’d like to accomplish within one year’s time.
Then, do four things:
- Write a letter to your future self that you’ll read on December 31st next year, and review what you’ve done in the past tense. Talk about what you’ve accomplished, and what it took to get there. Assume you’ve succeeded.
- Create a to-do list of sorts that you can keep someplace where you can look at it often – something a little more concrete that you can use to remind yourself of your aims from time to time. Then:
- Check-in with yourself and your list throughout the year to see if you’re making progress. It’s not a bad idea to review it quarterly (say at the end of March, June, and September, in addition to December) in order to see if anything in your approach needs to be tweaked or modified.
- Read the letter on December 31st and see how you’ve done. Look at what needs to be carried over to the next year – and try to focus on what you have achieved, not what you haven’t. The good thing about goals is that we can always roll them over if they really matter to us (and ditch them if we’ve determined that they don’t).
It may seem painstaking, but it’s effective. Trust me.
Here are a few last tips and suggestions:
- Be realistic: Is your goal actually attainable in one year’s time? If not, what portion of it can you achieve this year in order to make progress, or what might be a more attainable goal for you right now? For example, I have certain things that I would LOVE to put on my resolution list (like re-engaging in old, forgotten hobbies like playing the guitar) but those things just aren’t realistic for where I am in my life right now. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be 2015 goals, but if I were to make them a goal right now I wouldn’t follow through, and I know that. Be honest with yourself.
- Try not to create too many goals: The fewer you have, the more likely you are to follow through. I try to find one or two things that I’m working on throughout the year so that I don’t overwhelm myself. Life is full enough as it is.
- Remember: Progress not perfection. The goal here is to move in a direction, and to acknowledge that truly transforming something about ourselves takes time. Building a business takes time. Losing weight (if we want to keep it off) takes time. Becoming the person we were born to be takes time, so know that patience and determination are your allies here.
Finally, If you find over time that you’re not making the progress you desire, despite your best efforts, I just want to acknowledge that I know things aren’t always so simple. As a psychologist, a therapist, and a coach, I’m a big believer in the idea we sometimes get stuck on our path because of underlying psychological forces that hold us back. If you think this might apply to you, you can check out When Change Takes Time, the eBook to see how you can get underneath what’s interfering with your plans, so that you can overcome it.
If you have any thoughts or questions you can find me in the private Facebook group that I have set up for my newsletters, and you can join the conversation by opting-in at the bottom of this page.
Cheers, and to happy 2014 😉