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December 30, 2015

New Year’s Resolutions that Stick: Part 1

Along with a new year comes the desire to regroup and make positive changes. The passing of one year into the next represents a milestone that inevitably calls us into reflection and renewed commitment.

Although all of us feel this pull to start anew, formulating New Year’s resolutions that stick can be pretty tricky.

Why is it hard to create and stick to our resolutions?

Pressures Abound: Because resolutions have long since become synonymous with the New Year, we receive pressure from multiple directions to come up with something “good.” Water-cooler conversation at work naturally revolves around the topic, while buzz within the news and on social media reinforces its importance each January. In addition to this external cultural pressure, many of us push ourselves internally to devise the absolute perfect set of commitments. Or, others go to the opposite extreme and abandon the idea altogether because it’s too overwhelming.

Life is Busy: How many times lately have you answered the question of “How are you doing?” with “Busy!”? Technology is changing how we all communicate. The expectations to connect and respond to more people in more ways seem to constantly increase. As a result, this intense pace can make it harder for us to create the space we need to stop, take stock of what matters and look ahead.

Lack of Foundational Clarity: Like many tasks, creating resolutions can pull us very easily into the tactical, without first looking more broadly at some foundational elements. Before making resolution statements, take the critical step of grounding them in your deepest aspirations and values.

No Accountability: There are very few, if any, of us who can successfully bring about personal change without accountability. This is especially true if the change we seek is transformational in nature or involves getting outside our comfort zone. But let’s face it – all change is hard. It involves leaving old habits behind and developing new and unfamiliar ones. For change to be productive and successful, we need to be held to our commitments and encouraged to stay responsible. Often, this comes in the form of a friend, coach or colleague.

Fear of Failure: Any time we attempt to stretch ourselves into areas of growth, fear will show up. To grow, we must learn to recognize our fears, glean from them what’s useful (if anything), and set the rest aside. Otherwise, we will not take a big enough step forward. The fear of failure can be paralyzing. But not achieving your highest potential is the greater loss. Failure will happen from time to time, but it’s only a small piece of a larger growth process that includes, among other things, many successes.

Resolutions are Confused with To-Do Items: The most effective resolutions aren’t simply “to-do” items to be checked off a list. They’re deeper than that. To-do items generally represent specific actions that are pursued, completed at one particular point in time, and then replaced with new or different ones. Resolutions run deeper, as they should be ongoing actions that are internalized, made into habits, and become a more permanent part of how you live and relate to others.

Here, in Part 1 of this three-part blog series, let’s take a look at the foundational steps needed in order to firmly ground your resolutions. These initial steps will help ensure your New Year’s resolutions, once written, stay “sticky” throughout the coming year:

  1. Link your resolutions to what you value the most: In response to the pressure to come up with resolutions, it’s too easy to zero-in on topic areas that are fleeting or simply on our minds at the time. Rather, first clarify your core values – those concepts and principles that matter to you the most. Values represent what we really care about, and what we can’t stand seeing stepped-on or dishonored. A value is typically stated with just a single word, although its meaning runs deep and represents a myriad of associated thoughts, feelings and principles. For example, if one of your core values is relationship, you may want to consider formulating a resolution related to further honoring that value. Other examples of core values include health, faith, service, or courage.
  1. Connect your resolutions to a vision of yourself in the future: In addition to reflecting what you value the most, your New Year’s resolutions could be even more firmly rooted if they connect to a broad vision for the future. Where do you want to be in five years? What do you want to be doing and feeling? Your vision doesn’t need to be a comprehensive plan. Take the time to jot down some bullet points. A picture of your desired future will begin to emerge. Once you have this, you can consider how the upcoming year might fit into this larger puzzle, and how your resolutions can help reinforce movement towards that particular vision.
  1. Consider the multiple dimensions of your life: Too often, we put resolutions in the same few categories, such as career, finances or health. Before crafting your resolution statements, first consider the multiple dimensions of your life.   These may include: family and friends, fun/recreation, personal growth, learning and significant other/romance.
  1. Identify the biggest gap areas: After you’ve considered the various dimensions that make up the whole of your life experience, think about which areas contain the biggest gaps between the current reality and your desired state. In other words, what are the areas where you currently have the lowest levels of satisfaction? Of those, which ones do you feel are the most important to improve? Beware that when creating resolutions, a common trap is to default to the areas where we have the smallest gaps, as those are the easiest to work on. When you base your resolutions in the larger gap areas, albeit the most challenging, you will achieve the greatest reward.

Next, in Part 2 of this series, we’ll examine tips for constructing the most effective resolution statements.

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