People love to make resolutions—to walk more and eat less, stop yelling at the kids, clean out the garage, find some interesting hobbies, or get a better job. We feel tremendous elation in making these kinds of energizing pronouncements, not just to ourselves, but to our family, relatives, co-workers and, of course, to our Facebook friends. We think that the more often we state our intentions, the more boldly we do it, and the larger the group we do it to, the more successful we’ll be. But, if that were true, you’d probably be off doing something else right now rather than reading this blog.
Resolutions don’t work long-term because, as I’ve repeatedly said and human experience proves ad nauseam, we make them only for things we don’t much want to do and for changes we don’t much care to make. We cling to the flimsy belief that the act of proclaiming and fervently committing will somehow overcome our antipathy to engaging in change and will transport us to the magical kingdom of success. It’s a grand notion, but it rarely works.
This year, instead of making resolutions, come up with concrete, realistic solutions to your problems by seriously examining what has held you back from being successful. Start by assessing your motivation to change a behavior, say, taking a walk at lunchtime or not overeating in restaurants. Be honest with yourself about how much you whole-heartedly want to enact change—80%, 50%, 25%, 5%. Remember, there’s a huge chasm between wanting new behavior (the result) and wanting to make it happen (the process).
Don’t try to psych yourself up to do something; instead, objectively assess your motivation to reach your goals. If your motivation is 80%, what actual changes could you make to boost it closer to 100%. If it’s at 5%, don’t even dream of trying to move forward until you’ve reflected upon and turned around the 95% of you that is digging in your heels. You must remove these barriers in order to increase your motivation. When your motivation is minimal, no amount of prodding yourself to do something will get you to do it for very long.
Next, identify what will sustain your motivation. If you’re used to chasing external rewards, you’ll want to rethink this approach to goal attainment and sustainment. External motivators simply don’t work as well or as long as do internal ones such as pride, feeling better physically, and raising your self-esteem. Without having an effective, step-by-step plan or process for keeping yourself motivated, the same thing will happen to you as happened last year and the year before: motivation will dwindle until it’s down to zero. By fueling motivation effectively, you’ll develop the will and resources to overcome hurdles and be able to more easily pick up where you left off if you happen to slack off for a while or stall at a plateau.
Finally, script out the steps you will need to take to get where you want to go. Switch your brain into GPS mode and map out a route to reach your goal. Would you benefit from having a buddy for support, could therapy help eliminate some deep-seated or unresolved issues eating and otherwise, might distancing yourself from friends or family help, is mega job stress getting in your way, what effective techniques could you learn to relax more easily, how could you add more fun to your life, what life skills could you develop to attain and maintain success? Tailor your plan to eliminate obstacles and make moving forward more probable.
If you run into problems, don’t simply recommit to your goal. You can’t power through barriers by just thinking or talking about them or willing them to disappear. Yes, changing your beliefs is crucial. But you also need to find solutions out in the real world. And remember, change doesn’t happen tomorrow. It can only manifest itself in the present moment.