Whether you believe in making resolutions or not, the start of a new year can be a great opportunity to check in with yourself and think about what the future has in store. New beginnings—no matter what the occasion or where they fall on the calendar—can provide a chance to reflect on where you stand with your goals, how you feel about the direction of your life and how things are reading on your fulfillment meter. After all, you have a great deal of influence over these—acknowledging your role in making your life one worth living is pretty powerful.
“This can be the best time to start making changes because it is a natural resetting of everything and new beginnings naturally flow from the start of the new year,” international life coach and speaker David Saville says. “The trouble is that resolutions have become the punchline to a old joke that no one finds funny. We are expected to fail at them and so often do. You don’t need to be resolute; you just need to make a choice that lights you up.”
Sounds simple enough, right? So how do we make our new-year, new-goals commitments stick? Where you’re into making specific “This year I will…” resolutions or you’re more of the “I intend to… [without specific time frame]” camp, here’s what you’ll need to think about to craft resolutions for the year ahead (and beyond!) that you’ll actually want—and be able—to keep.
Don’t get hung up on ‘resolutions’
If you’re getting caught up in the language from the start, your chances of following through go way down.
“Words have power,” Lisa Daron, a NYC-based life coach, says. “So if ‘resolution’ doesn’t work for you, try another word or phrase that makes you smile. Try ‘what do I desire’, ‘what I’m ready for is…’, ‘the intentions that I’m setting are…’, ‘the commitment I am ready to make for myself is… .’”
Differentiate want from need
The key is to become clear on why you’re setting this intention/goal/resolution for yourself. “Make sure the goals you are setting for yourself are based on what you want not what you’re supposed to want,” Daron says.
It’s important to understand the why at the root of your intention setting. “Without the why, a goal or resolution lacks meaning. For each goal or resolution you set write about why it’s important to you – get to the heart of the matter and let that be your guide,” Daron recommends. “If you’re not excited about your goals—ie. because you’re doing them out of a sense of ‘should’—it will be difficult to make them happen.”
Make incremental steps towards success
The process of making changes in our lives is just that: a process. Goals and intentions are not meant to be realized immediately overnight: much of the growth we seek from changing our patterns or learning new things comes from the experience of working through them a bit at a time.
“Start small,” Daron suggests. “Create rewards for yourself. Make these life changes easy. For instance, if you want to get to a class three mornings a week, put your workout clothes next to your alarm clock. Ask your friend to call you at 7 a.m. and remind you how great you’ll feel after.”
Make it fun, make it easy, but be prepared to work and enjoy the journey of getting there.
Be guided by themes
“I stopped making resolutions years ago,” Coach Colene Elridge, MBA and owner of Be More Consulting and CoachColene.com, says. “I would start the year feeling energized and end feeling overwhelmed and defeated. Setting too many rigid resolutions that focus on narrow results just sets you up to feel like a failure.”
Instead of resolutions, Coach Colene suggests making monthly themes for yourself. “It has made all the difference in the world!” she told us.
For example, lay your year out as 12 months and assign each month an intention: January – joy; February – learning; March – family, and so on. Feel free to be flexible: these can change throughout the year as your priorities and interests shift. (How refreshing!)
“Frame each month with questions,” suggests Coach Colene. “What can I do to feel more joy in my life? What makes me feel joyful? Is there a skill or hobby I really want to learn during the month? How can I dedicate more intentional time with my family?”
She also sets an alarm in her phone as a daily reminder to check in with her intention and writes her themed intention at the top of each page in her planner. Imagine that! A whole year of simple, exploratory themes. The best part? As Coach Colene puts it, “By the end of the year, instead of feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything, you’ll feel like you’ve really done something amazing.”
Set a goal that feels impossible
Perhaps contrary to popular belief, setting easily attainable goals isn’t motivating in the way we might expect.
“By setting a goal that seems impossible, but so scary and exciting you can’t stop thinking about it, you generate all the internal motivation you need to make it a reality,” Saville says. “Impossible goals are more achievable than possible ones because there is less attachment to them happening, which means less self criticism when it isn’t going as planned.”
Because self-criticism and self-doubt are two of the biggest killers for motivation and follow-through, being able to knock these out of the way before they’re even a problem is powerful. Stop grabbing for the low-hanging fruit and set yourself a goal that seems a little nuts. Think of how incredible it will feel to make it happen.
… but know that smaller goals mean a ton, too
Even if you’re exploring what it means to do something you never thought you could, layer your commitments with some smaller, confidence-promoting goals.
“Make sure your smaller goals are manageable,” Daron advises. “What we don’t want to do is create new ways for us to shame ourselves by setting unattainable goals. Be mindful of practicing self-awareness along with self-compassion. They should go hand in hand.”
Surround yourself with support
Many of the goals we seek to achieve, especially around January 1, are not things we do in a vacuum. We need support, encouragement and often community to make them a reality.
“The most important thing you can do is surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you unconditionally,” Saville says. “I’ve worked with thousands of people, including Olympic athletes, and I’ve come to realize that we do not need self-belief to achieve great things. This belief in ourselves comes as a result of experience which proves to ourselves that we can.”
To get to that place, what we need are people who believe in us. “That way,” says Saville, “when we feel like crap and are sure we will fail, we have those beautiful eyes looking back at us with pure love and cheering us on. With that support, there is nothing we can’t achieve.”
Plus, this allows others to share their goals with you and creates a system of shared accountability.
“Accountability is essential,” Daron adds. “Share your resolutions with a friend or partner and come up with fun creative ways to keep each other on track so you don’t feel alone in it all.”
“Resolutions don’t need to be a once-a-year thing. If we remain flexible with ourselves and open to new learning, new experiences and growth, we can foster self-awareness and self-compassion throughout the year,” Daron says.
Instead of beating yourself up about failure or accepting the status quo forevermore, remain open to a mindset of growth—”meaning, the path of the learner instead of the path of the judger,” she adds. Acknowledge your efforts, push yourself and know that 2017 (or whatever time frame) is not a limit, but an invitation. What can you do to make this year powerful and fulfilling? How can you seek out positivity and give good energy to those around you?
Don’t get too caught up in what you must do to “be successful.” Be open to changing your priorities, to new things, to failure. The latter can be a guidepost instead of a roadblock, Daron advises. There is real power in crafting your year around what will bring you joy—and what will allow you to grow—so get clear on why you’re pursuing new intentions and what they will bring you.
The year ahead will be a good one.