In last week’s blog, we talked about how to set your goals and resolutions. Now we are almost one week into the New Year, and you have your lists/goals/resolutions, and nothing can hold you back! Except, it seems that at the end of any given year, only about 9% of people report that they were able to stick with their resolutions. I have a few ideas on why that is and some tips to make sure you fall into that 9% by year’s end.
We often start each New Year with a bang. We head out of the gate with fresh ideas, renewed energy, and exciting plans for the new and hopefully improved year ahead. But if things don’t go as smoothly as planned, our enthusiasm starts to wane. Many people do not stick to resolutions because the bar is set too high. Often the process of how long or how much effort something will require isn’t fully understood at the outset and doesn’t turn out as we’d envisioned it. Then, the next thing you know, you’ve decided it is too difficult or achieving it is too improbable, so you give up. After all, if you quit, you can rationalize that you didn’t fail because you didn’t even try that hard.
Living up to our resolutions, like all goals, requires tenacity, follow-through, and a willingness to fail. And this is key because that is where our important spiritual work resides. When you are willing to fail, you are willing to change. And change is the whole point! If the next step or the correct answer doesn’t present itself, many people give up instead of trying another approach.
Tips to help us follow through and stick with our New Year’s resolutions
1. Use your mornings wisely.
Research shows that our willpower is a finite resource and that it is at its strongest first thing in the morning, waning throughout the day. It’s the same reason that making smart breakfast choices is so easy, but sticking to healthy options in the evening can be difficult. We just don’t have the same fortitude towards the end of the day. Schedule in time every morning to spend on your To-Do. It is not only the most potent time of day; it will also keep you from the “I’ll put it off until I have some free time” trap.
2. Keep it to yourself
Sharing your resolutions with all your friends on Facebook and announcing them to your co-workers and close friends lulls you into a false sense of success. The brain cannot discern the difference between words and action, giving us a premature sense of completeness, leading to a lack of motivation to see the goal through. Kabbalists have long advised that we protect our hopes and plans by concealing them.
However, it is okay to share your resolutions with trusted friends or partners. Studies show that enlisting help (not announcing our intentions) to achieve our goals makes us more accountable and thereby more likely to follow through.
3. Be specific
I’m going to start working out again. I’m going to lose some weight. I’m going to write a novel.
Terrific! But get specific. If you want to start working out again, how about today? No change occurs without time and energy. Schedule your workouts. Set limits on your calorie intake and chart everything you eat to lose weight. To write a novel, commit to writing uninterrupted for 45 minutes a day. Ambiguous goals are usually not met. Specific goals are attainable.
4. Make it manageable
You don’t have to make huge changes; just small change after small change eventually adds up to great change. Just as you wouldn’t attempt to solve a calculus problem without having mastered basic arithmetic, neither should you set yourself up for failure with a wild resolution. Dream big, by all means! Just set attainable goals within a timeframe. If you want to be President someday, run for city council. Everyday life is a series of decisions, small changes that add up to great change.
5. Form a habit in 40 days
Commit to taking at least one action towards your resolution for 40 consecutive days. The number 40 has a special spiritual significance, as The Zohar explains that it takes 40 days to form a habit or change a pattern. For instance, if a person was born with a stubborn nature, he should break his nature for forty consecutive days, doing the opposite of what comes naturally to his mind. We were created in this world for the sake of breaking our nature, of changing our habits, to grow, and to leave our comfort zones. In fact, it is stated that if a person commits to changing or breaking a habit, The Creator will assist in that goal.
As you set out to make this year your best one yet, don’t forget to enjoy the process. Make it a practice of having gratitude for everything you have already accomplished and for all the blessings you already have. Have fun, take time to relax, and reward yourself when you cross a milestone. I’ll say it again, and full disclosure, this is something that I am working on incorporating more of into my life: Don’t wait to celebrate until the final stage or completion of your goal. Set milestones and reward yourself every time you hit one. Science says it’s a great way to stay motivated, plus, who doesn’t like rewards?