Every year I make the same resolution. My resolution is to not make any resolutions this year. And every year, I break my resolution simply by making it. This is my way of taking away the guilt or pressure of making lofty goals that will most likely be broken sometime in the near future. This is our human nature: we get excited about change, start to make a change, realize that change actually takes hard work, get discouraged by that requirement, start failing in our efforts, judge our progress against our idea of what it “should” look like, and then stop making progress entirely. This is why so many people buy gym memberships at the start of the year and then stop using them entirely in March. This is also why gyms do not expand their space due to the influx of new members at the beginning of the year. They know that the numbers will decrease rapidly.
In our “dream big” culture, it is easy to get into a cycle of getting excited about big goals to accomplish, starting to make some progress on those goals, and then crumbling under the weight of what is actually required to achieve a lofty goal. So what is one to do (aside from adopting my resolution tradition, that is)?
First, you need to rethink your strategy.
- Go Big or Go Home is the wrong strategy! It may sound sexy or cool, but time and time again this strategy results in a poorly planned approach (and you end up going home).
- Reconsider building off of “Take the Easy Road.” The most effective strategy for making changes is to start with a reasonable first step. If the first step toward your goal feels doable, you are more likely to do it!
- Delay of gratification is the key! With most goals, you will not see the fruit of your labor for a while. So during the crucial first phase of your goals, you should expect that it will require pain but provide you with little gain. But take heart; with persistence you will reap the rewards.
- Reward yourself with things that get you closer to your ultimate goal. It is important to reward yourself for your efforts, especially during the initial phase, in a way that encourages you to continue moving toward your goals. For example, don’t reward yourself with the opposite of your goal. This only reinforces the idea that your goal is something that you do not truly enjoy.
Have a Happy New Year and may you be more successful with your resolutions than I am.
Shawn Healy, Ph.D.