You might be thinking that this is just another blog post about how to keep your New Year’s Resolutions - or an explanation about why resolutions don’t work.
And you’d be right on both counts, at least partially. But the problem isn’t really with the resolutions themselves; it’s with the motivation behind them. As long as your resolution is reasonably realistic and something you can control—e.g. losing 20 pounds or writing the first draft of your novel, as opposed to bringing about world peace or marrying Leonardo DiCaprio—then you are perfectly capable of reaching that resolution, as long as you can find and maintain motivation.
But how do you do that? It’s not as easy as simply deciding that you’re motivated, although that’s not a bad first step.
Find the Reason
Why do you want to accomplish this goal?
If your resolution is to lose 20 pounds, do you want to do it for health or because your sister is getting married in April and you don’t want to look like a pumpkin in the orange bridesmaid dress she picked out?
And if your resolution is to write the first draft of a novel, I hope it’s because you love writing and want to give yourself a solid goal to work toward and not because you want to be rich and famous. Because unless it is 1997 and your name is Joanne “J.K.” Rowling, writing a book is probably not the best path to wealth.
List the Benefits
If you lose 20 pounds, will you have more energy? Will it be easier to buy clothes? If you write a novel, will you be accomplishing a lifelong dream? Will you be one step closer to the career you’ve always dreamed of?
Aside from the concrete achievement, think about the related benefits, whether they are also concrete and tangible, or just emotional.
Reframe Your Resolution
Now’s probably a good time to stop calling your resolution a resolution and start calling it a goal. Why? Because New Year’s Resolutions usually fail, and there’s probably a voice in the back of your mind that thinks that this one is no different. So if you want it to be different, call it something different, something more universal and always applicable. “Goal” it is then.
It’s no longer just a New Year’s Resolution; now it’s a goal, and goals are much more accessible, aren’t they?
Make it a Habit
The goal is the final destination. And the road to that destination is paved with habits.
Using the previous examples, if you want to lose 20 pounds, the habits that you need to develop should include exercising more and eating healthier. If you want to write a novel, you should make it a habit to write every day or every other day or a certain number of hours per week.
Do Your Research
This should go along with making it a habit. Figure out what kind of workout is best for your needs, abilities, and lifestyle. Learn something about writing and/or publishing.
Subscribe to blogs. Check out books from the library. Talk to friends and family who have already accomplished the goal that you’re working towards. Just don’t let researching get in the way of doing.
Don’t Spend Loads of Money Right Away
We all know someone who has handed over a ton of money for a gym membership in January and then stopped going by the middle of February. Don’t be that person. Make exercising a habit and then join the nice, fancy gym of your dreams as a reward. Run outside, dust off the old weights, do exercise tapes, or join a cheaper bare-bones gym first.
Similarly, if you’re working on your novel and are tempted to buy yourself a new desk and furnish an entire office-space for yourself, hold off for a bit. Make yourself reach a certain point—say, 15,000 words or a month of writing every day—before you rush out to Ikea to buy a pristine white desk or order a bunch of inspirational posters off Etsy in order to make your Pinterest boards a reality.
Accept that Mistakes and Set-backs Happen
Sometimes you eat a donut. Sometimes you come home from work and are too exhausted to write the 1,000 words you were supposed to write that day. It happens, and it’s fine. Don’t let one mistake or set-back derail your plans. Get up the next morning and get back on track.
You lost a dress size? Go out and buy a new outfit!
You got through your writer’s block and wrote five chapters in one day? Take yourself and someone special out for dinner!
Be Willing to Adjust
Let’s say it’s a week before your sister’s wedding and you’ve only lost 15 of the desired 20 pounds. What do you do? Stop eating and try to lose 5 pounds in one week? Give up and binge on ice cream and cheeseburgers every day in defeat?
Hopefully, the answer is neither! Instead, you could try to lose one or two more pounds, and accept a new goal of 16 or 17 pounds. Even if it's not the original 20, it's still an accomplishment.
What if at the end of the time that you gave yourself to have a finished draft of a novel, you realize that the last 30,000 words you wrote are all wrong and you figure out a better route to take your story? Do you settle for a mediocre story and finish with the direction your plot had been going or do you delete the entire file from your laptop?
Once again, hopefully you don’t do either! Give yourself another three months to finish the draft. Recognize the value of the work you’ve put in and keep working to make it better.
I hope that these tips help you keep your resolutions—sorry, goals—this year. And if you have any advice or success story of your own, please tell me all about it in the comments!