How many times have you started off the new year with high hopes and a long list of lofty resolutions only to end up frustrated within just a few months to see that many, if not all, of your New Year’s Resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Want to break this pattern?
Check out these counterintuitive tips to make this your best year yet:
1. Stop Making Resolutions!
Resolutions don’t work. That’s because most people’s New Year resolutions look like an overwhelming laundry list of “to do’s” that would require massive willpower (not to mention an extra 40-hour work week) to implement. Most mere mortals simply can’t sustain the energy required to implement so many changes simultaneously. In fact, research shows that only 9-12% of people who made New Year’s resolutions felt successful in keeping them by the end of the year.
So what does work?
2. Celebrate Your Progress
The more confidence we have in ourselves, the easier it becomes to achieve any goal. In theory, this confidence shouldn’t be too difficult because human beings are goal-achieving machines. Our brains are wired to learn, grow, and achieve, so we’re always tweaking ourselves, our lives, and our work in big and small ways to make them better. This means that even though you may not stick to all those resolutions you set, you’ve likely become a better human this year than you were last year anyways.
So why is it that you aren’t brimming with confidence in your ability to achieve your goals? Unfortunately, this ingrained goal-achieving mode also keeps you focused on the gap between where you are and where you want to be. This creates stress in the brain to keep working to close that gap, drawing you forward to learn, grow, and improve. But while this stress has the positive purpose of helping you achieve your goals, it’s still stress. This future-focused goal achieving mode also means that you don’t tend to stop very long to look back at how far you’ve come. Over time, this lack of self-recognition depletes your energy and confidence.
To combat this stress and increase your confidence, try the following year-end practices:
1) List everything you’re grateful for from the past year. Don’t censor yourself. If you’re grateful for the successes of a friend or family member, list them along with your own. If you got a new pair of pants you really love, write it down. If you had a fun date with someone, capture that too. Be as grateful for the fact that you didn’t kill your one plant this year as you are for the raise you got or the book you published. Gratitude releases all kinds of juicy stuff like serotonin and oxytocin in our brains that makes us feel happier and healthier. This primes our energy and focus to go out and tackle whatever comes our way.
2) List all the big and small ways your life and work are better than before. Again, don’t censor yourself. And dig deep on this one. Look for the subtle changes in your patience, the fact that you’ve learned to trust your intuition more, how you make big decisions faster, and how you don’t get so annoyed with your sibling. And by all means list all of the purchases you’ve made—particularly the ones that really made a difference in your quality of life, like a new mattress or a more comfy office chair. The point is to recognize that progress is happening. Even if it was a year of setbacks, you can still dig into those challenges and mine them for what you learned, how you grew, and how you have become stronger, more aware, or simply more worldly because of them.
Noticing and celebrating your progress energizes you to continue the next phase of your journey. It gives you confidence that your next evolution is possible because you are more conscious of being successful in making so many changes before. Focusing on your progress changes your identity. Instead of seeing yourself as someone who is still reaching for your goals, you see yourself as someone who has already achieved many goals. This fills your cup and allows you to start the New Year with a full battery of confidence, belief and energy.
Over the many years I’ve done this annual practice, I’ve noticed that the things I was most grateful for or the biggest growth areas were often not things I had planned to do. Whether a new friend, an unanticipated business opportunity, or a challenge overcome, this practice has built my confidence that life has a way of working out. This reminds me to chill out, be more trusting, and be more willing to risk following my heart.
3. Identify Your Intentions
Now that you’ve amped up your energy and confidence, it’s time to identify your intentions for the coming year. You’ve probably heard of setting SMART goals and how goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound to increase the likelihood of achieving them. While I believe that this type of goal setting is effective in some situations, it can cause undue stress in situations where the environment you are living or working in has many factors which are beyond your control. Sounds like living in the 21st century to me!
Because we live in a rapidly changing world, I like to set intentions rather than goals. Intentions are less specific than goals, but this makes them more open, inclusive, and expansive. When helping my clients envision the next phase of their lives or work, I encourage them to define their vision, but “hold it in the open palm of their hand.” The last few years have made all of us more aware that we may not know what tomorrow will bring. Setting intentions rather than goals is a great way to set your sights on the direction you’re heading and start moving towards it, while still allowing you the flexibility to change your approach or take a detour if needed. Intentions allow you to flow your way into your vision rather than forcing yourself to stick to goals that just aren’t wanting to happen–at least not yet.
Go through the various areas of your life and identify intentions for the changes you would like to see by the end of the year. To set your intentions, ask which areas of your life, if you made even slight changes, would have the most positive impact on your overall wellbeing, fulfilment, happiness, and success? You can set intentions in many categories, including spirituality, relationships, creativity, business, finances, or career. Describe specifically how you would like things to look when the change is made rather than making a to do list of how you are going to create that change. Avoid listing anything because you think you “should” or “have to” change that area. It is far easier to sustain the energy to follow through on change if it is in alignment with whom you truly are and want to be.
4. Pick a Theme
The above might not sound so different from typical goal-setting methods, but the real power comes from this last step. Look back over all your intentions to find an overall theme for the positive changes you want to see in your life and work this year.
One year, the thread that I saw running through my intentions was “Maximizing Freedom”. We were hoping to have a second child and our business and personal intentions all centered around building the infrastructure to deliver our products and services in a way that was less dependent on us having face time with our clients. By keeping my core theme top of mind (instead of a long list of goals) it was easier to keep my actions and decisions aligned with my highest intentions. The goals shifted over the year, but the intention remained constant. We experienced bumps and detours along the way, but ultimately the results we achieved were more in keeping with our intention than the original goals we had started out with.
Mastering learning, growth and change requires motivation, determination, and persistence, but it also requires the ability to slow down, let go, refocus and realign. Life doesn’t need to be an uphill battle all the time. By stepping back to look for the themes that are playing out in your life and work, you can learn to gently nudge yourself towards greater success, wellbeing, and fulfilment with far less stress.