Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions are a Waste of Time

I have been saying this for years: New Year’s Resolutions set you up for failure and feeling sh**ty about yourself. The resolutions people make are usually about fixing themselves and their lives, based on “there is something wrong here” or even worse, “there is something wrong with me.” It is a losing proposition that doesn’t usually produce the results we seek, nor the sense of commitment, pride, and accomplishment we deserve. Instead, focus on getting clear about what you want -- based on values and personal purpose/meaning -- and then create goals that support that. Create a living, breathing plan for the coming year that you adjust as you evolve and discover more about yourself. Don’t do this all or nothing approach that comes with resolutions.

I believe it important to set yourself up to win. I have an exercise that I do personally, and assign to my clients every year called Looking Back, Looking Forward. It can be done at New Year’s and/or at birthdays (personal new year) and is designed to help you begin your year with energy and excitement. It is about clarity, choice, commitment, and creation. So, let’s dive in and start with…

Looking Back

Begin by reflecting on what you have accomplished and learned this past year, so that you can powerfully complete it with honesty and celebration. We so often want to charge ahead into “what’s next” without taking the time to consider all that it has taken to get us here. Who were we being that allowed us to create the successes and lessons? What did we do that gave us all we have? If we don’t take the time to acknowledge this, we miss out on honoring ourselves and our actions…and feel like we are always pushing ahead toward an elusive finish line that never shows itself.

Find a quiet spot to write or type without interruptions. This may be in your home, a peaceful location where you feel at one with yourself, or even a coffee shop. Relax and reflect, without judgment, and record your thoughts. Consider these questions:
  1. What did you accomplish that you intended to accomplish?
  2. What did you accomplish above and beyond what you intended?
  3. What didn’t you accomplish that you intended?
  4. What did you learn this year?
  5. What would you like to be acknowledged for and by whom?
Below are some topics that you may want to include (for both parts of this exercise) so that you can broaden your scope beyond career, money, and health:
  • Career: your real expression, not necessarily your “job”
  • Money: includes both your finances and your “job,” if it’s not your “career”
  • Health: mental, physical
  • Relationship: friends, family
  • Love: romance, partnership, dating
  • Personal growth
  • Spirit: relationship to self, universe, higher power
  • Community: contribution, involvement
  • Physical environment: home/work space, clutter, living location
  • Fun and recreation
  • Time/energy management: how you spend/utilize your time, what you say yes/no to
  • Communication: style, frequency, with/to whom
  • Miracles: something amazing and unexpected…
Try to write down at least 2-3 items in each area, but you may find yourself putting down dozens of successes and lessons. You may also consider working with someone close to you to help capture things that you are forgetting about. Then choose to celebrate the year in some way. It can be something like purchasing a gift for yourself, or it can be an action that doesn’t cost a dime. Whatever way you choose to recognize what you have achieved, the most important part is you consciously take the action with celebration in mind. Some examples may be taking a bath, making a toast or a special meal at home, or even going for a long walk.

Looking Forward

This portion of the exercise is about creating a vision of what you want to be/do/have for the coming year. Think about who you are, what you value, and what is most important to you. Consider what you dream about, who you want to be, and what kinds of activities you would like to participate in.

Then write down, in each of the areas listed above, a few goals and milestones for the coming year. Some are continuations of something you have already been doing (keep smoke-free, continue going to the gym 2x a week), or might be new activities (be open to taking risks, take a vacation). Don’t get too bogged down in the “how” just yet. Just allow yourself the space to be creative and think outside the “fixing” toward what your heart truly wants. Refer to this article for a little assistance. Remember this is about clarity, choice, commitment, and creation.

Some tips:
  • Be realistic by setting achievable goals. Winning the lottery, for example, is out of your grasp.
  • Describe your goals in specific terms. Instead of "I don't want to be lazy," opt for "I want to exercise regularly" or "I will cut down on my television watching." Consider this article when writing this.
  • Break down large goals into smaller ones. For instance, commit to losing weight by resolving to join a gym and improve your eating habits.
  • Find alternatives to a behavior that you want to change, and make this part of your plan. For example, if you want to quit smoking, but have smoked to relax yourself, consider: What other forms of relaxation are available to you?
  • Above all, aim for things that are truly important to you, not what you think you ought to do or what others expect of you.
Now What?

You have reflected on the past year, you have celebrated and put it to bed, and you have created goals and milestones for the coming year. The next step is: action. Remember, these are not New Year’s Resolutions; rather, they are part of your short and long term plans based on who you are and what you really want. Now is the time to jump in. Here are some suggestions for initiating and keeping your goals alive for yourself:
  1. Just pick something and start. You will not take on all your goals at the same time. Pick the top 3-5 that you can start making a dent in right now, and begin practicing. You may even want to take on the easiest ones first, so you can experience immediate success to get you motivated.
  2. Declare it. By keeping key friends informed of what you are doing, you are setting yourself up with a support system. Share your successes and challenges. This will not only help you, but will also motivate others and help them feel like they are not alone.
  3. Partner with someone. Create structures or commitments to help keep you accountable. Find a workout buddy. Partner with someone to help you keep smoke-free. Hire a coach. You don’t have to go it alone!
  4. Use your calendar. Make sure you have time and space set aside in your day for your activities, goals, etc. If a competing priority comes up, reschedule that time – don’t just cancel it. By carving out the space, it is more likely to stay top-of-mind and you are more likely to do it.
  5. Baby steps. Break your goals down into small chunks. See more explanation of this HERE. For example, if you want to lose weight or gain strength, set some targets for the next 3-6 months, then work backward to determine how you will achieve that target. Put in some milestones. Create some structures. But most importantly, don’t get overwhelmed by the bigger goal; remember that you only need to focus on TODAY.

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