Every new year, we make resolutions. It feels like getting a new start on life. We're full of hope and anticipation. But, year after year, the same thing happens. Within a few weeks, it's all gone -- the enthusiasm, the hope... Once again, the new year’s resolutions have fizzled out. And we feel deflated, sad and guilty: we broke our promises to ourselves.
Statistics show that the percentage of people who maintain new year’s resolutions falls sharply as the weeks go by... to the point where half of the people who make good resolutions at new year have given up on them by the end of June.
The "glass is half full" perspective is that half of the people succeed.
Which half do you want to be in?
It's not necessarily going to be easy to succeed, but it will be easier if you are prepared. This outlines three simple principles that will help you make – and keep – new year’s resolutions.
Note: This article is also available as a printable PDF.
1. Keep an eye on the goal
Resolutions vs wishes
Are you going to make any new year’s resolutions this year? If so, keep in mind the difference between a resolution and wishful thinking.
A study compared people who had committed to a new year resolution vs. people who had simply wished for a change to happen: By the end of June, change was 10 times more frequent among people who had made a commitment.
Good, you say…. but, in practical terms, what’s the difference between a wish and a commitment?
Wishing is passive. Commitment is active.
When you wish for something to happen, you just hope that things will go well on their own. If things don’t go well, there’s no “Plan B”. You just won’t get what you wished for.
In other words, wishful thinking will get you nowhere, because it essentially amounts to professing your powerlessness: “It would be so nice if things happened magically, without having to fight for what I want.”
In contrast, feeling committed means that:
- you have a sense that things need not be easy
- and you’re ready to fight for what you want.
Control vs. "go with the flow"
The following will illustrate the problems of “going with the flow”. Jane says: “I have had many years pass me by without taking a proactive role in determining the directions my life would go. I took a "Life Happens" attitude.”
What does this mean? Jane says: “The concept of setting goals, actually forming a plan, taking action, and purposely achieving the wanted results, was not part of my life style.”
Now, what is the problem with this attitude? “I know "Go with the Flow" is a popular saying, and I'm sure there are times when it's appropriate to do so… But I've come to realize how much of my power I gave away to others and to the universe by "Going with the Flow" most of the time.”
"In contrast," Jane says, “I've learned a lot about myself, and how much I can do to take my life in the direction I want to go.”
Let’s imagine you are on a raft, going downstream. It’s very pleasant to go with the flow. You’d be crazy to paddle upstream – except if you want to go into the other direction.
To stay with the image of rafting: Let’s suppose you suddenly discover that the flow is leading you to some major falls. Now, going with the flow would just be suicidal.
Many of us think of the words “control” and “power” as “dirty” words. We do not want to be “controlling”. As a result, we can fall into the opposite trap - - not using our power, not controlling those things that we could, and should, control.
Being proactive means using our power to control those things we can control.
Aim for a specific goal
It sounds so obvious that it's easy to overlook: to make any kind of change, you first have to aim for it, seriously commit to it.
The more specific your commitment, the better. The devil is in the details. For instance, committing to "eating better" or "exercising more" is going to be very difficult to practice. On the other hand, a commitment to avoid specific foods, or to exercise 3 times a week at lunchtime... are easier to follow.
Be realistic. Don't bite more than you can chew.
Here again, the devil is in the detail. How do you know what is realistic, and what isn't? Sometimes, it's just a question of common sense. Sometimes, it's not so obvious. How do you know the difference? Well, sometimes, you don't. You learn it, over time.
So, what is it that’s going to make that kind of commitment possible?
Commitment is not something you can fake. I’m not saying “pretend to be more committed”. I’m saying; “Give yourself a chance to feel how much you want what you want.”
And how do you do that?
Let yourself see it. Let yourself want it. Creative visualization is a great way to be pulled from where you are toward your goal. Let yourself imagine what it would be like to have achieved what you want. Picture the results. Let yourself feel how good it would feel. Let yourself bask in the dream…
We've all heard about the use of visualization in gymnastics, in tennis, and sports coaching in general. We know that, for Olympic athletes, visualization of goals is a way to help improve performance.
Why shouldn't it work for you?
I define being proactive as looking back... from the future.
Creative visualization is a great way to look back from the future. More than that: a great way to be pulled from where you are toward your goal. Images, and the emotions that go with visualizing things, are a very powerful way to motivate us.
Take a hint from Madison Avenue: Advertising doesn't sell us products just by telling us they're good for us. Advertising taps into the power of images. Commercials tell us stories that build a brand personality. At a semi-conscious level, we find affinities for these personalities. Our connections with brands are not just made on a rational level, they're emotionally charged.
"Future visioning" is a good tool for personal development. It is a way to make goals more concrete, and to make more of an emotional connection with what these goals mean to us.
Visualizing is not magical thinking:
- What would be magical thinking is saying that the secret to getting what you want is just to let yourself form a clear image of what you want - - that this clarity of vision is a substitute for the effort to take the steps that translate this vision in reality.
- There is a kind of poetic truth to this kind of “secret”: If you have a clear, vivid sense of what you want, then you will be so motivated that the effort will seem much less onerous. In retrospect, when you reminisce about what happened, you may feel like it all happened so much more easily than it actually did!
As you contemplate making specific changes, let yourself visualize what it would be like to have achieved this goal. Let yourself feel the excitement. The goal is in sight, you can smell it, you can taste it... Remember what this feels like: This is the experience of feeling motivated.
Capture a snapshot of this image. Of course, you can’t do so with a camera. But write a few sentences to capture that image. And save these words.
There will be plenty of times, in the next few weeks, when you have moments of doubt, when the goal doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort. At those times, pull that sheet of paper, and revisit the dream. Let the dream inspire you to do what it takes to get there…
This vision will be a very effective way to help pull you through the inevitable difficulties of making the changes you want.
Continue to Part 2 of this article.
Note: This article is also available as a printable PDF.
See also: Self-Leadership Workbook: When Just Do It won't do it