Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year's Resolutions and how to stick to them

My favorite of all holidays and traditions is New Years. For some reason, the thought of a "new" year, for many, is associated with a fresh start or a new beginning. It focuses on improving oneself, one's life, or making something better. It's a chance to reflect on the previous year (or years), what you liked or did not like, and take a stand in naming what you would like to change for the future. Unfortunately, once the cork is popped, this is where that tradition ends for many. A huge number of people each year name a goal but do not achieve it (approximately 75-88%, according to various studies). Why is it so difficult to do one thing in a year? 

Well, the most common goals seem to be such things as: "lose weight" or "get out of debt." YES these are great goals, however, thinking of the goal by itself can be intimidating or even confusing. For example, lose weight- well, how much? by when? how am I going to lose it? what if I don't have time? what if I just gain it back by the end of the year? Of course I'm not saying these goals cannot be achieved, but it takes a little more thought (but actually LESS work) to really achieve your goals and make them stick. 

Here is a set of handy tips to help you find a resolution and stick to it. 

1. Name your goal and state it positively. 
Say it out loud to yourself. Write it down. Think about why you want to change this thing, and the consequences of not changing it. Wonder if you are doing this for yourself or to please someone else (hint: your goal may be easier and much more rewarding if it is for yourself). Think, "is this achievable?" In my experience, people respond much better to goals stated in a positive light. For example, "stop eating junk" conjures up images of all the junk I will be missing- and how much I love to eat junk, and how much I hate being told to stop doing things that I love. Also, what if I slip and eat an entire bag of Cape Cod potato chips with french onion dip?  I'm going to feel horrible about myself when I remember that my only goal for the year was to "stop eating junk." I might even look at that goal and think, "no way am I ever going to stop eating junk. I might as well just eat the whole bag." However, when written as, "eat healthier," it still has the same meaning, but states the goal in a way that makes me want to pay attention. That one I can post on the fridge and perhaps could influence me to only eat a bowl of chips instead of the whole bag.

2. Break it down
As I mentioned previously, a goal such as "lose weight" is pretty vague. If your goal is something similar, break it down as much as possible by asking yourself a bunch of questions about what this goal means to you. You can make this into a sort of check list. Most importantly, make each goal doable within a certain time frame. This is explained more in the next section.

3. Make a plan
Making a plan for yourself is the best means to achieve any goal. You cannot follow a plan someone else has made, because they have made it for themselves. If your heart isn't in it, you may not feel as motivated to work on it. Think of all the questions you asked yourself in the previous section. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, perhaps you may think, how much do I ultimately want to lose? What is achievable for my schedule and lifestyle? Will this involve dieting? Exercise? Can I do this by myself? With my partner, friend, or coworker? A personal trainer? Do I need a gym membership? How will I avoid making myself miserable over this goal or giving up? And most importantly, what is the smallest step I need to take to feel like I am working towards this goal? 
At the end of this, you may have a list such as:
Goal: Lose 10 pounds
Why: I will feel healthier, have more energy, and have more self confidence :)
1. Identify what prevents me from losing weight now
2. Get a gym membership/ gather equipment/ buy yoga tapes
3. Speak with a nutritionist (available free online) to create a meal plan that works for me
4. Get a workout buddy/ online support community/ other support to turn to when I feel discouraged
5. Learn about food cravings, what they really mean in my body, and healthier foods I can eat to feel satisfied
6. Allow myself to cheat once a month
7. Aim to work out 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week
8. Read a motivational quote or story, or journal and re-read previous entries once a week
Note: Make your own list! This is just an example I created. Your list should reflect your own personal views and lifestyle, and make you happier. Make it your own! 

4. Enjoy yourself! 
If you're miserable or if you quit, there's a pretty good chance you missed something. Why didn't this work for you? Is there a way you can modify your goal or plan to help you achieve it? The best part is that since this is your goal, and you are always changing, you may always change your goal and your plan :)

Personally, I'm a big fan of personal goals and I like to give myself options, which is why I made 10 goals for myself this year. I'm going to try to finish at least 5 of them. This year, my goals are as follows: 
- Get out of immediate debt (not counting school loans)
- Get rid of all the junk I've been saving to put on ebay before my lease is up in August
- Go spelunking
- Improve my mood
- Graduate and get a job (scary...)
- Learn to ski
- Try something new
- Update a journal at least once a month (I still have journals from high school that I read once a year, gives me such an interesting perspective on my life)
- Start a blog and update at least once a month (I planned that my first entry would be on resolutions and goal-setting, woohoo!)
- Be a better friend

What are your New Years Resolutions? How will you achieve them?

Some great sites to help you with your resolution
I love 43 Things - it allows other users to share your goal, and post a note to keep you motivated! My Goals includes suggested plans that have worked for others including possible road blocks to achieving the goal, time frames, and "expert" advice. Another great informational site is Goal Setting That Works, and if I had Windows, I would most definitely be getting the one goal taskbar reminder, mentioned on Lifehacker.