Happy New Year!
I’m guessing you’ve been around long enough not to make rash promises about all the changes you’re going to make for the new year. But surely it’s impossible not to feel the freshness of the year and to want some things to go differently?
New Year’s resolutions have a bad reputation, but they aren’t necessarily a bad idea if you approach them with a useful perspective! Unfounded hope or gloom may swamp you round January 1 and drive you to make snap promises that are mostly about wishes and fears. If you can resist those kind of ‘resolutions’, investing some productive time and thought can result in some desirable and achievable goals for the year.
Before last New Year’s, in a 2-minute spot on the radio, I suggested taking both a realistic perspective and a strategic one. I give the example, that if you have a partying mate staying for the month of January, now may not be a realistic time to cut down on your drinking and eating. Once you’ve based your resolutions in reality, you’ll need to turn to strategy and work out all the hows, when’s and where’s. Enlisting support or working towards a joint goal with a friend will increase your chances of succeeding. Likewise, reviewing your progress and goals throughout the year will also help you achieve them.
Here’s the audio in case you want to listen to it again.
I want to expand on the points I made in the clip above and offer a 5-step approach to well thought-out New Year’s Resolutions – not the kind that you can fail at overnight, but instead those you can actually work towards achieving.
Exactly what do you want to be different this year and why? Be as specific and clear as you can.Saying ‘I’ve gotta quit smoking’ isn’t enough. Is it that you want to get healthy because you’ve had a health scare or witnessed one? Is it because you’ve reached a milestone birthday or you’re considering having children, or because your children are getting old enough to be worried about your smoking?
Whether it’s about your health and fitness, your relationships, career or something else, push yourself to clarify the change you want and your motivation. Reflect on what has worked and not worked in the past. This will help you determine your starting point and which direction to head in.
Outcome: Know what you want to achieve and why. Know yourself and your history – use your reflections on past successes and failures to inform your plans.
Do your homework. Draw on the vast stores of expertise and experience available to work out how to succeed. For example, cold turkey is the least successful method of quitting smoking. There are now a whole array of nicotine replacement products and some prescription medication available that are proven to help smokers quit. Do some research to help determine which ones are most suitable for you.When people who are trying to quit smoking fail, 80% of them do so in the first two weeks of quitting – plan in detail your first two weeks to ensure yourself the best chance of succeeding. There are a huge number of methods that are proven to help. For example, getting help (e.g. call the Quitline) doubles your chances of succeeding!
Outcome: Have the information at hand and use it. Whatever it is you want to achieve, there will be information, scientific data and/or experienced people with advice on options for succeeding. Have well thought out and personally tailored plans ready.
This is where being realistic and strategic comes into play. It’s about working out the ‘hows’ of seeing your resolutions through.You’ve identified what you want to change and how you’ve slipped up in the past and you’re armed with the latest data on what works best for someone like you. Now you need to make your plans, paying careful attention to timing and other situational variables.
The popularity of ‘detoxing’ in February seems to grow each year. Whether it’s about minimising unhealthy eating, cutting back on alcohol and other drugs, (or I’ve recently heard it applied to spending and shopping), it seems a sensible idea to redress the indulgences typical of December and January. And it may well be more realistic to quit bad habits after most of the summer festivities are over and you are back into a more regular routine.
And will you begin your new healthy eating plan on a Monday when your work schedule will keep you busy and you will only eat the food you’ve brought from home? Or will it be Sunday, after you’ve shopped for all your healthy, whole foods on Saturday morning and got your friend’s birthday dinner out of the way Saturday night?
Finally, part of being realistic is acknowledging the drawbacks of any goals you set and planning for those too. If it’s a job hunt you’re about to embark on, you’ll be investing time in completing job applications and preparing for interviews. You’ll need to be willing to be rejected and you may need to consider sacrificing your current salary level for a desired shift in career direction.
Outcome: Once you have factored the above points into your New year’s Resolutions, your thoughtful plans will now have all the ‘hows’, ‘whens’ and ‘wheres’ spelt out, including likely challenges and potential pitfalls. Importantly, they’ll also budget for the tough times, perhaps incorporating rewards to offset the pain (e.g. book a massage as compensation for turning down a night out that would ruin your efforts at quitting smoking, party drugs, binge drinking or overeating).
Record your plans in detail and then reveal them! Go public and make yourself accountable. This is a critical step in achieving success. Only you can determine what lengths you’ll have to go to. Will paying for an annual gym membership help you get fit? Or will you need to make a pact with a friend to meet every other morning to train? Maybe boot camp or a personal trainer is what it will take.Tell family, friends and colleagues about your goals and let them know how they can support you. Do coach them in how they’re allowed to react if you slip up – should you request they confiscate your wallet or put you in a cab if you drink too much?
Outcome: You’ve proven to others and yourself that you’re serious. You’ve gone public and have built in some accountability…and in doing so you’ve increased your likelihood of success.
5. Review and Redo
Review your plans regularly and certainly when your circumstances change or when you have a slip up. Is it simply a case of forgiving yourself and starting fresh in the morning? Or do you need to reconsider your methodology? If you want to lose weight, maybe you need the rigour after all of a daily meal plan, a food diary and weekly consultation and weigh-in.If you’re not succeeding, it just means you need to go back to step 1. Reflect on what’s not working and change your approach. Review your options, get some help, and use what you’ve learnt from your mistakes to inform better plans.
Outcome: As long as you have endurance you can’t fail. Decide before you start that whatever happens, the resolutions hold. If you slip up, it’s just more data to use to improve your plans.
I wish you all the best for the coming year and look forward to hearing about your plans when you’re ready to go public.