If you’re reading this, then the world didn’t end on the solstice on Friday. Which means that once again, the calendar page will flip to a new year in about a week. We’ve inched past the darkest/shortest day of the year, and are heading into the light by tiny increments, which is what makes this time of year so perfect for reflection and new beginnings. But do your resolutions tend to be forgotten a week or so into January? How can you make them stick?
The most important lesson in achieving a goal is to break it down into manageable chunks. Take it from nature — we don’t just go from short days to long overnight, but with just a few minutes each day, suddenly it’s summer. Consistency is the key. Let’s look at the example of a few resolutions.
“I resolve to learn a second language.” It’s easy to do the grand gesture and lay down $600 for a Rosetta Stone program or buy a ticket to Paris for immersion school. But what really makes the difference in achieving a goal like this is setting aside a dedicated time for focused study. Even 10 minutes a day will make a difference. You can miss a day, but you can’t miss every day. Making the effort the majority of the time is what will make a difference.
“I resolve to meditate every day.” Another common resolution, this one sounds easy but how many of us really sit down and get quiet every day to settle our minds and spirits? Personal growth guru Marianne Williamson says that most of us fail at this goal because we expect too much of ourselves, not too little.
She says that even setting a timer for five minutes of meditation is better than trying to force an hour of it into a busy schedule. Creating the habit is the first step, and the results will be the encouragement needed to stick with it and even increase the length of your meditation over time.
“I resolve to get organized.” Again, break it into chunks. Getting your whole life in order is overwhelming, but tackling it one room at a time, or even one drawer at a time, makes it manageable and rewarding. You can break down your time management problems and paper challenges in a similar way and then delegate certain tasks that are not your interest or strong suit. Hiring a bookkeeper was one of the best decisions I made in the past five years.
“I resolve to lose weight and get into shape.” One of the most common and unwieldy resolutions, if you don’t have a plan and really break it down, you will be in for frustration and failure. I remember one year in my early 20s when I resolved to eat only green vegetables because I didn’t know of any other way to determine if something was fattening or not. Since I was in England at the time where nothing in the grocery stores was green (the palette was more grays, beiges and browns), I ran out of options as soon as I got off the plane.
Planning is crucial to keeping a resolution. Make your gym appointments or calendar your exercise schedule. Meet with a nutritionist and set up a solid, realistic plan. Stock the house with “good” food choices and get rid of the enemies in the freezer (the holiday goodies). Join Weight Watchers or another group for support and guidance — the regular meetings also help to keep you on track.
All resolutions require some planning. Do some thinking about what might come up in life to thwart you and make a plan to avoid it. Whether it is your kids running in and interrupting your meditation or having to plan dinners so that you can make it to Spanish class, do the planning ahead of time so that you can hit the ground running Jan. 1.
In addition to breaking goals down into manageable bits, and planning, we have to quit beating ourselves up over missing a day or not doing things better, faster, perfectly. Ironically, perfectionism is one of the biggest characteristics preventing some of us from achieving our goals. It’s the old, “If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all,” and it’s a resolution killer.