Yes, I know. You likely loathe New Year's Resolutions because you never keep them and usually just end up regretting ever uttering any declaration on New Year's Eve. I know how it feels. How many times have I told myself I'm going to rid myself of my love handles, get up at 5 a.m. each day to meditate, cook a new recipe every week for my family, curse less, drink more (water, that is), and on it goes?
But, as much as you may not like to hear this, research has found that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions.
The problem lies in both what we resolve to do and how we go about doing it. Often with too little thought and too much bravado to be able to stick with it until Valentines day... if that. Indeed there's a hard science to success when it comes to achieving goals, making life changes, and cultivating new habits -- whether on January 1st or any other time of the year.
So rather than give you a long list of TO DO's, here are the top five 'NOT TO DO's' (aka mistakes) that people make. Avoiding them will help you set yourself up to move beyond the default course of least resistance in 2014 and make those changes you know, deep down, you want to make.
1. Not Meaningful Enough. For a resolution to stick, it has to be aligned with your core values. Most people want to look better or be wealthier, but your resolutions have to go beyond superficial desires and connect with what truly matters most to you. If they don't connect to something you care about deeply, you will be hard-pressed to hold your resolve at the first temptation to ditch it.
2. Too vague. Resolutions like 'be happier,' 'have more life balance,' or 'get fitter' are doomed to fail because they lack specificity. If you're currently a couch potato who eats a tub of ice cream each night after your take-out dinner, then simply eating half a tub of ice cream and walking an extra 10 paces a day won't do the trick.
The more specific you are, the more likely you will be able to succeed. Describe your goals and resolutions in ways that allow you to track your progress and measure your success. For instance, if you want to build a better relationship with your partner, schedule at least one date night per month, or, as I've done with my husband, one weekend away -- sans kids -- per year.
Likewise, if you're committed to a better health and exercise regime, schedule how many workouts you'll fit into each week and how long they'll be. If you want more balance, decide exactly what would need to be added or subtracted to/from your life to bring it into greater balance.
3. Insufficient Accountability. Never underestimate the power of your environment to support or sabotage your success. As much as you might want to make a change, the environment you live in -- from the state of your closet to the people you hang out with -- can pull you back into your old default habits of thinking and acting in no time flat. It's therefore essential to create an environment of accountability that makes it hard for you NOT to do what you're committed to.
Design a progress chart, recruit a cheer squad from your family and friends, post your goal to Facebook, ask a friend to hold you accountable, hire a coach or trainer (and pay for 3 months upfront!), join a group of likeminded people, create a blog. Likewise, if there are people or things in your life that pull you down or off track, address them directly and set whatever boundaries you know you will need up front.
4. Overly Ambitious. Trying to do too many things at once can make you so unfocused that you just bounce around like Tigger on Red Bull, not quite sure in which direction you are going. Set yourself up for success and start with JUST ONE major undertaking come January one. Then break that goal down into small bite-size steps. Small steps, strong start!
5. Unrealistic Expectations. It's easy to get caught up in an initial wave of enthusiasm as you imagine yourself looking svelte in a bikini on the beach next summer, only to come crashing down when your initial efforts don't produce immediate and spectacular results. So focus on the process itself, and develop greater competence of the actual activity, habit, or skill you want to acquire. For instance, if you want to become more fit, focus on being able to jog a little bit farther every time you go for a walk, rather than being able to run 5 miles within a week.
Likewise, expect hiccups, 'bad days,' and setbacks as you start out. If you happen to mess up, lose your resolve, press the snooze button, or revert to a familiar well-practiced behavior, don't beat up on yourself. Okay, so you didn't get to the gym like you'd planned. How about 5 minutes of stretching? When it comes to slipping up and tripping up, you are in very good company (yes, including my own).
Don't make your failings mean more than they do. Reflect on the lessons they hold, make adjustments accordingly, then tap your inner John Wayne and get back in the saddle. Life rewards those who work at it.