2024 is here. A brand-new year for all of us and whether it started well or a bit slow, one thing you are sure to hear as you meet your friends and relatives in the coming days are their New Year's resolutions as well as some well-meaning questions about yours.
So, what is it going to be this year? Are you going to quit smoking? Lose weight? Exercise more? Eat healthier? Quit booze altogether and start Pilates? Oh wait, these were last year's resolutions already… So, what happened to them?
Some people with more time and patience than me have done the research and uncovered that only 16% of us keep and honor their New Year’s resolutions at all, while 80% of resolutions are already forgotten by February! So, why do we keep doing this, year after year?
What, as I often ask my patients, is the goal BEHIND the goal?
Well, obviously, the first part at play here is tradition. People have been making New Year’s resolutions since forever, why would that change? Then, it is also fun to think about this fresh new year, imagine all the possibilities and start dreaming about what could happen. Finally, it is very much human nature to start thinking about new possibilities, every time we are offered what amounts to a clean start.
So, why am I ruining everyone’s fun saying ‘Let’s say “no” to NY’S resolutions?
1.They usually don’t work. Except for some (The 16% mentioned earlier!), in some very restrictive areas, they do not work. You might have a friend or acquaintance who tells everyone with ears that THIS ONE TIME they decided they would stop smoking and actually did it. So, yes, sometimes it does. But the fact that it did happen several years ago and that the story is still being repeated ad nauseam is a clear sign of something extraordinary. If New year’s resolutions worked, no one would mention their successes, the fact that they had a resolution in the first place would carry the inherent meaning that the goal had been achieved.
2. They make you set goals against yourself for results you probably want to achieve, but that will require constant self-disciplining, meaning fragmenting yourself in two or more parts: the ‘good ones’ that want to follow the rules and the ‘bad ones’ that want to binge watch TV instead of working on the book you said you would be writing or stay up late when you said you would go for a run at 5 every morning. There are only GOOD parts in you, and creating ‘bad’ ones and casting them off is not only counterproductive, it amounts to self-hurt. Chances are that if you set goals against yourself, you will find that you lack commitment, motivation, and have moments of doubt during which you give up and go back to the old behavior. You also won’t appreciate the process you go through to reach your goal. Focusing on the result just brings in stress and anxiety as you neglect the process and don’t get any personal growth out of it and the sense of failure when you finally give up by February 3rd will be the conclusion of this year’s sad story…
3. They are often unrealistically high. While I am always the one telling patients to set goals that make them excited and motivated, something they really want to achieve and that makes them feel alive just by thinking about it, New year’s resolutions tend to be widely overreaching and in complete opposition with the person’s usual mode of operation. The reason, I believe, is the magical feeling that is attached to NYR, we get the feeling not only that anything is possible (which it usually is), but also that it is possible quickly and easily. And who needs planning when there is magic?!
You must be starting to wonder if I have lost my mind! Wait! Is a Well-being coach actually telling you NOT to set goals because all will fail anyway?! That there is no way out of the things you dislike in your life and no change is possible? No, I am not! Don’t worry, I will tell you what is better than NYR and ACTUALLY WORKS much better!
1.Define your goal: The first step is easier to take when you know where you are going! What is your goal going to be? Think about it, live it in your head a little bit. What will it be like to reach this goal? Not only for you, but for the people around you? When you have your goal, what will the world around you look like? What will you see? What will you hear? What will you feel? How will reaching this goal change and transform your daily life, your relationships? Are there any reasons why NOT reaching the goal would be a better option? (Tricky question, but do think about it: if you do become a millionaire this year, how will that change your relationship with the people close to you? Is there a potential downside to reaching your goal?)
2. Make a plan. Write it down. If you are a visual person, then, create a picture of your goal and what it is going to look like, draw it in your mind or on paper. You need to be able to see it as clearly as possible. You can even add sound, music and a sensation to go with it. How will you feel, in your body, when you reach this goal. Make it as attractive and as tempting as you can, so that if setbacks ever occur, you can be reminded of what you are working towards.
3. Create a strategy: Now that we have the destination, let’s work on the map! HOW are you going to get there? It is a great thing to say that by the end of this year you want to be able to run the marathon. However, when you have never run a day in your life, a good, strong, resolution might not really be enough. So, start on the list. The STEPS toward your goal. What needs to be done? What is a reasonable but still motivating pace? You want the steps to be small enough that you can climb them, but you also want each of them to be high enough to represent an achievement worth celebrating each time! List all the things that need to be done, in what order, how will you do them, and think about how each step will be enjoyable in its own way.
What will be the first step? And the second?
4. Build support: If you are fine making your goal public, then go ahead and share your plan with someone close to you. Hear their input and check if there are any ecological changes that need to be made to your strategy. If you don’t have anyone you can/want to tell about your goal, then you can create a diary in which you will be able to record your progress and write about it. This will be a great tool to look back at over the months. When you set new goals and go through the same process again. Alternatively, hire a coach. Even though it is possible to set and achieve goals by yourself following the description above, it is usually done faster and more efficiently when you have someone who can guide you in the right direction and help you see things that may not always come to consider on your own.
5. Enjoy the process: while NYR are all about the results, enjoying the process is a huge part of what will make the goal so much more fun to pursue, exciting and attainable. Celebrate along the way and consider setbacks as learning experiences. What do you know now that you will be able to use in the future?
And hopefully by next year, not only will you have reached your goals, but you will also have had fun, learning and growth along the way!
Best of luck to you all, and a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!