For most people, ’tis the season for ill-fated resolutions, well-intentioned but doomed promises to themselves that they’re going to change for the better.
If you have read my posts here over the last couple New Year’s, you know I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions (at best they tend to be ineffective – at worst they reinforce people’s inner story that they can’t make positive change).
But if you’re determined to make them anyway, here is a way to approach them that increases their potential to have a meaningful impact on your life.
Commit to a year-long resolution project
Rather than looking for the immediate gratification of instant change, look at a resolution as a year-long project. Take action on it, but don’t assume that the New Year’s rush of optimism will be enough to carry it through into long-term integration into your life.
Look at your resolution as a starting point, and then commit to doing the work to integrate it over the next year.
As you do, don’t get caught up in needing it to be a perfect transformation. As the integration unfolds, you’ll likely experience backsliding as part of the process. Instead of beating yourself up for “failing” at keeping your resolution, think about it this way:
If every month you take two steps forward and one step back, by the end of the year you will still have taken twelve steps in the right direction!
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your year-long resolution adventure.
Set up monthly checkpoints
One of the biggest challenges with taking a longer term approach is that it tends to slide off our radar screen. To counter this, try setting up monthly checkpoints where you check in with yourself (or even better, with someone else!) to assess how it’s going. Ask questions like:
- How well am I doing?
- What do I need to do differently?
- Where am I falling down? What can I do about that?
- What is getting in the way of my progress? What can I do about that?
- What support do I need? Where can I find it?
- What knowledge do I need? Where can I find it?
- How have I succeeded? (And then celebrate that!)
Look at your experience as research and development. You work on implementing your resolution for a month, and then bring it back into the lab to look at how it went.
The goal isn’t to assess whether or not you succeeded. It’s to learn from what you have done in the last month. Removing your resolution from the tyranny of a black-and-white definition of success gives it infinitely more potential to succeed.
As an added bonus, checking in once a month also gives you twelve built-in chances to get back on track when you wander.
One of the benefits my clients find in my coaching is accountability. Knowing that someone is going to be asking about what they have committed to do adds an additional incentive to actually do it.
The same is true any time we express our commitment to something to someone else. It’s much easier to let something slide when you’re the only one who is watching it lapse.
Is there anyone in your life you can use as an accountability partner? It could be as simple as checking in with them once a month to update them on your progress, what you’ve learned, and how you plan on moving forward.
Find a resolution partner
While we’re on the topic of the value of incorporating others into your efforts, you might want to find someone who can be your resolution partner. In this case, instead of just you creating accountability by reporting in to someone, you partner up with someone who is also working on their own year-long resolution project.
Acknowledge your progress
Finally, acknowledge your progress as you move forward. Spotlight your successes. Recognize the steps you have taken in a positive direction. Give yourself credit for those positive steps, without minimizing it with a yeah-but focused on how you haven’t been up to snuff.
Reward yourself. Praise yourself. Ask someone else to give you kudos. All too often the only feedback we get from ourselves is a kick in the ass when our efforts fall short. How motivating is that?
Trying setting up a reward system where you get a reward each month if you meet certain goals. For example, if you’re cutting down on sugar, treat yourself to something special each month you hit a target goal (like 25 days out of the month where you keep your sugar intake within a set range).
At the end of the day, real change takes time. Making your new year’s resolution a year-long project will make that time an inherent part of the process.
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