Five Secrets to Making Your New Year's Resolution Stick

Happy 2018!!  And with the New Year, comes New Year’s resolutions.  Right?  How many of these have worked out for you across the years.  It’s tough to do, right?  After a while we can even start to feel ineffective at making things work.  Well, I’d like to get you off to a good start with these 5 secrets to making your New Year’s resolutions stick.

1. Tie your resolution to your own values!

What do you mean doc?  What I mean by this is make sure that whatever resolutions you have chosen are tied to things that you truly value, not what others value for you or that society tells you that should value.  Case in point.  The #1 resolution almost every year…lose weight.  It’s a decent goal and can be attainable.  However, it is also a goal that is laden with cultural values of needing to be be thin to be attractive, healthy, etc.  If this is your goal, ask yourself why you want to make this your resolution.  Is it because you value yourself over other things in your life and need to put yourself first this year?  Or is it because you want to fit into those jeans gathering dust on the top shelf in your closet?  If it’s the later, my guess is this resolution is rooted in a cultural value and not one of your own. Now, that is not to say that you may not value what the culture does, but beware.  As the comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”  If all you are trying to accomplish is to meet the status quo, it may be an empty value.  If on the other hand, you love your family and friends dearly and want to live to be 102, then getting healthy may mean you get thin.  In that example, the value the goal is tied to is spending time with family and friends (not being thin because American culture tells you that’s valuable).

So how do I know what my values are doc? Wow…that’s a biggie.  Sometimes our values are things taught to us in our families of origin, communities, cultures, and faith communities (just to name a few).  Ultimately though, they are things that we continue to value ourselves.  I don’t think all of us still ascribe to all the things we were taught as kids. So here is a quick test.  What are the things that get you charged up the most (positively or negatively)?  What are the kinds of things that you would “go to bat” for?  Maybe it’s that competitive nature of yours.  Or maybe it’s that you are always willing to take on more to help others. Now, once you figure out what things get your charged up, ask yourself, why is that?  What need of my own is that serving?  For example, with those of us that are competitive is it because being the best is our value? Or, is it that being the best was a value of our family of origin that we would like to move away from? For those of us who are always willing to help someone else, is it because we find value in service? Or, is it because we don’t know how to say no and displease others?  This line of questioning can help you get to the bottom of what your values are.  Once you’ve got these, be sure that they tie back to your resolutions.   You are bound to be more successful if your goals have meaning for you, rather than your goals being meaningful to others.

2. Make your goals measurable.

This one seems very simple, yet it is very important and often forgotten in my experience.  Here is what I mean.  To go with our earlier example of losing weight, if your goal is just that…to lose weight…won’t you attain it after you have lost 1 pound?  While 1 pound of weight loss would actually meet the criteria of losing weight, I am guessing it would be far from what you want to really accomplish.  So, for this step, all that is needed is a little more specificity.  You could phrase it more like this, “I’ll know I have met my goal of losing weight when I ______.”  In that blank, could be any kind of measure.  It may be a set weight limit, a set size you want to fit into (like those dusty jeans you have on the shelf), or it can some way that the weight loss makes you feel (e.g. have more energy, sleep through the night, etc.).

3. Set your goals in small attainable increments.

So, this one goes hand in hand with the step above.  It seems pretty intuitive, yet I am never surprised when I hear folks struggling with this one.  Let’s face it.  We want accolades.  We like praise.  We strive to accomplish things and are disappointed if we miss the mark.  But what if our mark is way too high. For example, in our example weight loss goal, if we want to accomplish losing 25 pounds in the first month, we will likely be killing ourselves for a slim chance of attaining the goal.  Plus, I am guessing if we want to go that fast with this goal, we probably are off in step one (tying our goals to our values) as well.  We will be much more successful and much more engaged if what we are working towards is in stepwise attainable increments, possibly with rewards at each step.  We love positive reinforcement.  So, if the goal is to lose 25 pounds, we could reward ourselves for each 5-pound milestone.  Like a new workout outfit or a new cooking utensil that will help us in our continued goal of a 25 pound weight loss.  We do better with ongoing encouragement, than we do with a long term goal with little to no reward on the way to the goal.

4. A “Not” goal is NOT a goal!

This is an absolute No! No! in my book.  Alright doc.  So, what is a Not goal?   Here are some examples of “Not” goals.

            I will not eat sugar anymore.

            I will not cheat with snacks between meals.

            If I am tired and don’t want to exercise, I will not give into my laziness.

Goals are not things we are NOT doing, they are things we ARE doing.  When you are setting your goals in small attainable increments, make sure you don’t fall into the “Not” goal mistake.

5. And last but certainly not least, don’t forget to FAIL.

Yes, you heard me right.  Don’t forget to fail.  Failure is a hardwired step in the brain’s learning process.  It’s how we know where the boundaries are to what we are learning and how we solidify the steps that we must recall.  When young kids learn to talk, one of the most common (and possibly cutest) error they make is to add “ed” to all past tense verbs.  For example, instead of saying “Mom, look how I ran” a toddler might say “Mom, look how I runned”.  In a literal sense, this is a grammar failure, but in a global sense this is a necessary part of the language learning process.

So, don’t forget to fail.  Or maybe I should say, don’t forget to get back up and keep going, learning from your necessary failure.  Don’t be scared to make changes to your goals either.  You may find that the measurable goals, in attainable small increments, are inching you away from your ultimate goal.  In those cases, readjust.

I will leave you with a quote that I think best summarizes this last step.  I wish you all well in this New Year.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

The Man in the Arena, by Theodore Roosevelt, an excerpt from the speech “Citizen in a Republic”