I stopped making resolutions when my 35th one failed. That one particular year–after my previous resolutions to lose some superfluous pounds had dissolved and melted with the snow in March–I resolved to put on 10kg. At least, I thought, if this time it does not work I will not be upset. Naturally it did not work. I didn’t expect it to. We tend to make resolutions in moments of high emotion and tension, normally when we have become frustrated with something, and we rarely plan how to go about them. We rely simply on willpower.
I had only resolved to put on 10kg. I didn’t actually do anything about it. I didn’t make a plan, I didn’t put a vision and I didn’t make a mission! Just like with the previous years, I wanted to do something but the desire was not enough to withstand all the temptations and the distractions otherwise known as “life.”
I had been meaning to finish my novel for years now but I was advancing like a penguin in an arctic storm (and if you haven’t seen March of The Penguins, that’s very slow.)
There are the usual tricks that we read about and that help you to maintain your resolutions and your resolve.
- Set an intention, remind yourself everyday why you are doing what you are doing.
- Set a clear, manageable goal. Don’t just say I am going to lose weight, or I am going to get in shape or I am going to finish my novel, make clear goals like I am going to put on 5% muscle mass, or I am going to re-edit 5 pages a day every day.
- Visualize. Take 5 minutes out of every day to see yourself at your desired point of success.
- Believe that you will succeed.
All this is well and good. All these tricks are very helpful. But all this requires willpower and immense self-motivation. And willpower is great first thing in the morning and on the 1st of January, but as we have come to discover, it a also a finite, easily depleted resource that is difficult to keep up until the evening, let alone for a whole year.
There are two things you need to add to your resolutions arsenal this year: habits and accountability. It is extremely difficult to do things alone, and with a world population of over 7 billion, why should you? You can enlist a friend or work with a coach who will help you break down your challenge into small manageable steps and then keep you accountable for them. And as you answer to your friend/coach/mentor/colleague on a regular basis, you slowly form the habits you need to maintain your promises to yourself.
Want to run a marathon next year? Here is the first scenario:
You resolve to run a marathon on the 31st of December. You wake up the next day, probably with a hangover, and go out for a 20k run. You almost die at 1k but you keep going, you will need to run a marathon after all, and at 2k you’ve depleted all your sugar resources and your legs are burning and your head is about to explode and you cannot take one more step. You go home. You do the same intermittently for the whole month of January and then on a particularly cold, rainy February morning, you decide to sleep in. Who is going to know after all? You do that intermittently in February, until finally by March, you have more or less given up on your dream of running a marathon.
The second scenario involves a friend or a coach who a) tells you to stay in bed on the 1st of January b) to take a very slow, short run on the 2nd and to build up gradually from there, with a clear plan; and most importantly, c) kicks your butt out of bed on a bitterly cold February morning because, after all, the cold is still easier to bear than a disappointed friend or a coach hollering down the line.
So. Inspired? Ready to go? Arm yourself with a plan, preferably from a source who knows what they are doing, enlist some help and get going. And who knows? Without you noticing, your resolution has become a habit.
Here are some books that can also help you along the way.
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown (if you’re too shy to ask for help.)
- The Power of Habit and Faster, Smarter, Better, both by Charles Duhigg (to learn about the importance of habits and how to go about building them.)
- Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin (to know the type of personality you are and get the right help you need.)