The way to keep a New Year’s resolution is to pick a good goal and then overhaul your life to in order to meet it. Duh.
But some of you are saying, hold it, my goal isn’t big enough to require an overhaul of my life. Maybe your goal is to, say, clean out your closet. But look, this is not material for a New Year’s resolution. This requires you to cross a day out on your calendar and tell yourself that’s your closet day. Done.
Do you know why most people don’t keep their New Years’ resolutions? Because the resolutions are terrible. The hardest part of a New Year’s resolution is choosing one, not keeping it.
Most resolutions are goals to change our behavior: Stop smoking, stop eating crap, stop being late. This is not a small change. This is a change that requires a massive overhaul of our daily life – hour by hour.
Most of you are saying that you can’t afford to overhaul your whole life to meet your goal. You have a job, you have kids, you have friends who would think you have lost your mind. But you know what? If the goals you set are not worth overhauling your life for, then ask yourself why not?
Pick only one
We can each meet one or two big goals a year. We can’t change a lot of bad behavior – the more resolutions we make the less likely we are to keep them, according to Roy Baumeister, psychologist at Florida State University. But we can change one. Pick the one that’ll mean the most to you. And, you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that changing one habit actually requires so many small changes in your day that you also end up being able to change other habits, because the patterns of your life change.
A goal is creative, not analytic
I think a lot of the time we don’t let ourselves see what we really want. Maybe because it seems too hard to get. Often we don’t let ourselves really see ourselves living the life we want, and I think this is a failure of imagination.
To that end, I love this art exhibit (not safe at work) by Alison Jackson because it is a bunch of photos of scenes I wanted to see but didn’t’ even realize I wanted to see until I saw them. Then I thought, oh, that is so fun to see. It made me realize how much work it is to be really conscious what I would really want. It takes a great imagination.
A worthy goal means you can imagine life after meeting the goal
Jim Fannin makes a living teaching people how to imagine themselves doing behavior they want. (My interview with him is one of my favorite lessons in goal setting, ever.) Fannin says it’s nearly impossible to meet a goal if you do not know what you’d look like meeting it.
He takes this to the extreme and has his clients (many major league baseball players) play movies of themselves in their heads – movies of them meeting their goals. It’s a good test for you. If you can’t imagine in your head the moment when your meet your goal, then it’s probably not a good goal.
If you can’t meet the goal, consider that it’s not you, it’s the goal
I spend a lot of times trying things out to help me find my core goals. I am a big fan of writing things down to understand oneself. After all, that’s probably why I am a blogger. Sometimes I write lists of things that bug me, and I learn from that. And one year I discovered that writing letters to odd people in my life revealed a core goal.
Even when I have my goal that I’m focused on, I check in with myself frequently to reaffirm that it’s the behavior in my life that is most important to me to change – like renewing one’s vows.
So think very hard before you make a New Year’s resolution. Because setting your goal is much harder than meeting it.