Reach Your Goals/Change Your Life
It’s difficult to believe that 2018 is coming to a close. I bet you remember when the year was still fresh. A clean slate to write upon. Yet now the year is quickly running to the finish line. Another chapter of life written.
Many of us use this time to reflect on memories of what went well, the successes we’ve had, times with family and friends, and the goals we’ve achieved.
On the other hand, many of us also look at what we would like to have done differently. This can be a little painful. It might even cause some anxiety to look at those goals that were not reached. Things we promised ourselves we would finally complete, but once again somehow never got around to doing. (Spoiler alert… I’m going to show you how to move those painful items to the “Been there, done that” column of life).
All of this brings us to the topic of New Year’s resolutions.
With a new year stretched out before us, it’s natural to want to set ambitious goals. Important and personally meaningful goals. Often, without too much thought, we’ll latch onto a couple of things we would like to change in our life and then make a New Year resolution.
Sadly, by the middle of the year, most of us have broken these resolutions. I feel your pain.
Yep, by the time the weather turns warm, most of us have tossed aside our New Year resolutions. Dumped them on the side of the road that leads to summer. Tossed them out the window as if they were some regrettable impulse buy made at the Dollar Tree store. (True confession, I’ve never regretted a Dollar Tree purchase – but that’s not the issue).
Have you found yourself in that situation? The odds are you have – like most of us. Welcome to the club. But take a moment now to consider what might have happened if you had succeeded in fulfilling one or two of those resolutions? Better yet, what if you had been successful in keeping your resolutions over each of the past five years?
How might your life be different? In what ways could it be better? In what ways might you have become a better version of yourself? Really give that some thought.
Resolutions that are successful, even small resolutions, have the potential to dramatically change one’s life.
I recall the story of a woman in her 40’s who was depressed, overweight, socially isolated and a chain smoker. On a trip overseas, in a remote location, she found herself unable to buy cigarettes. For a full week she would be without her smokes.
“Why doesn’t Trip Advisor warn about such things!” she screamed into her pillow (OK, I added that, not sure the whole screaming into the pillow was part of her story).
Bottom line, the woman was not pleased. Nicotine withdrawal is a bear.
But by the end of the week she had an insight. Despite her numerous attempts to stop smoking throughout the previous ten years, she had never gone a full week without a cigarette. Now that she had a full week of being clean, she wondered if she could extend that streak for one more day.
It wasn’t easy, but she stayed clean another day. Then another, and another, and another. By this point her confidence had soared, as had her determination to stay ‘nicotine sober.’
Having kicked cigarettes out of her life, she physically felt much better. Her sleep had improved. Her thinking was clearer. She began to savor the subtle flavors of food that had been dulled by a two pack a day habit.
So she decided to start exercising. Every morning began with a brisk walk. It wasn’t long before she was waking earlier and walking three miles a day. Then jogging, and then running.
Eventually she joined a running group. The other runners were warm and welcoming. Friendships formed.
Her friends encouraged her to sign up for a half marathon. They would run as a group. To prepare for the challenge she changed her eating habits. Due to all the running and healthier eating she began to lose weight.
All of these changes took place within two years of her having stopped smoking. A small change in her life had unforeseen consequences. It altered her outlook, and pushed her in a new direction.
Two years previously she had been unhappy, smoking two packs a day, in poor health, and had almost no real friends. Now she was the picture of health, supported by friends, and optimistic about the future.
The right changes, even small ones, can shift our lives in dramatically new directions. These changes are similar to the slight push on the tiller of a boat. This causes the rudder to move ever so slightly one way or another, changing course of direction just a few degrees.
What sort of difference do these small changes make? Well, if you were sailing north from the southern Pacific Ocean it would make the difference between making landfall on the coast of Russia, versus the United States.
New Year resolutions that are well chosen can have a similar impact on your life, drastically altering where you find yourself in the coming years.
Resolutions Are Goals
Resolutions are simply goals. And goals that we stick to have tremendous power because they change life’s trajectory. They have the punch to rekindle old passions. To unveil forgotten potential, and spark a cascade of positive change.
We all need goals. Better yet, we need good goals. Those that lead us to form habits which, having become second nature, move our life forward even when we are not consciously striving to do so.
One example of such a habit is that of getting consistently getting a good night’s sleep. Nail this habit and you will see a change in improved energy, a brighter mood, and a clearer mind. Or the habit of reading leads us to expand our knowledge and view the world with a more informed perspective.
What we want to avoid are resolutions, or goals, that wither and die. These lead to a sense of frustration. Of being stuck. Powerless to change our own destiny.
Better to not make any New Year resolutions than to perpetually fail at keeping them. I know, sounds harsh. But there is no upside to going through an end of year ritual that teach us to expect failure.
The ‘take home’ message? Take aim at forming resolutions that you are willing to fully commit to fulfilling. Chose resolutions, no matter how small, that will enrich your life in some way.
When choosing a resolution think of a ‘why’ that makes it worth sacrificing time and energy to complete. The ‘why’ boils down to how it improves your life, or the lives of the people you most deeply care for.
How To Make Resolutions That Stick
So how do you stick to a New Year’s resolution?
By building a strategy that supports your success at reaching the goal you have set.
What’s that again? Let me elaborate.
Most resolutions are made with a great deal of sincerity, but very little detailed planning. To increase the odds of success, you need even more planning than sincerity. If a goal is not worth the time and effort needed to make a detailed plan for succeeding, then it is unlikely to be worth the even bigger effort it takes to reach that goal.
There are four simple steps you can follow that will make reaching any goal much more likely. Each step requires some earnest thought.
This ‘thinking through the details’ of how to reach your goal can be challenging. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, the rewards are great.
Let’s go over each step.
ONE Select a realistic goal. For example, if you want to learn a new language in the coming year, your goal might be to memorize three hundred words of that language. With that vocabulary having been built up you might also aim to have 50 different sentences with which you are fluent by the end of the year.
That boils down to learning six words a week, and about four sentences a month. How much of your time would that require each week? Thirty minutes? An hour at the most?
Much more doable than the loftier goal of learning to speak a foreign language fluently by the end of the year (sorry Rosetta Stone, but let’s deal with how much spare time most people really have each day). Learning 300 words, and 50 sentences is a realistic goal, even for a very busy person like you.
If you continued with that goal for several more years you would have at your command a vocabulary of well over a thousand words, and hundreds of sentences. That’s what they call pretty impressive in French (assez impressionnant), German (ziemlich beeindruckend), or Japanese (Kanari inshō-teki).
TWO Write down each step that you must take in order to succeed. Using the same example, we could easily identify several steps: buy a book, or a DVD language set, or enroll in an online course. Another step would be to set aside the time to study each day. A third step would be to identify the words you wished to learn, put them on a list and determine what words will be learned each week. Another step would be to decide how to reinforce the learning once you’ve committed a word to memory (e.g., flash cards that would be reviewed once weekly). You get the idea.
It’s important to be specific with your plan. Likewise, it is important to be committed to the plan.
For instance, if you planned to spend ten minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening reviewing the vocabulary words, you would mark that in your calendar.
It would need to be treated as an important appointment with yourself. Keeping that appointment should be a priority.
Lastly, I need to emphasize that staying with your new routine will be difficult at first. But once you get started, and you’ve stayed with it for two or three months, it becomes second nature. Like brushing your teeth, just part of your routine.
THREE Find a partner (if possible) to join you in reaching this goal. This will make it more fun, and you’ll have someone to encourage you, and help keep you on track.
FOUR Reward yourself along the way. As you make progress toward reaching your goal, stop to celebrate. For the example about learning a language, it would be good to celebrate after every 50 words are mastered. That’s a milestone! Time for a pat on the back and a double scoop of ice cream!
Are there any other ways you can think of to make resolutions that stick? It’s worth giving some thought – it just might be the thing that sends your life in an entirely new and more rewarding direction.