Every year at the gym I attend, there is a huge surge of people who show up at the gym starting on the first day of January. Go to a fitness class in January and there is no room to stand. Try to get an open treadmill in January and you are going to have to wait a while. Luckily, the crowds don’t last long. Usually by the first or second week of February, things have gotten back to normal. The fact that this cycle is a yearly occurrence highlights a disconcerting truth. It’s almost laughable (if it weren’t so sad) how much failing at our New Year’s resolutions has become a part of the definition of being human.
Did you make New Year’s resolutions this year? Maybe you’re not a resolution-setting type, but you just have some big goals you’d really like to accomplish. Perhaps you’ve been reading our blog for a while and would like to once and for all tackle emergency preparedness by getting enough food and water stored for your family, gathering emergency supplies, and making a family emergency plan. If you are like most people and have made goals in the past that have failed, this post is for you. What follows are six tips to help you turn your goals into successful habits that are a part of your daily life, not just wistful plans spoken and then broken.
1. Be specific. When you are setting your goals, be sure they are specific, achievable things and not just general ideas. For example, saying something like, “I am going to become more self-reliant this year” is much too vague and subjective. A better goal would be something like, “I am going to budget in $20 a month with which to buy emergency food this year.” Without specifics, goals have too much space for excuses and procrastination.
2. Be realistic. Choose goals that you know you can achieve. There should, of course, be some challenge involved, but do not expect yourself to be a completely different person than you are right away. Know your tendencies and weaknesses and make goals with them in mind. Change is possible, but only gradually and in small increments.
Consider making smaller goals right now that will bring you closer to your ultimate goal. For a while, my husband and I had a goal to learn Mandarin Chinese. This is a monumental task, and whenever we sat down to “learn Chinese,” we would become overwhelmed at the enormity of it. Because we were trying to teach ourselves and didn’t have much familiarity with the tonal variations that make Mandarin so tricky, we eventually gave up. If we had made a more realistic goal to start off with–like learning 100 Chinese words or mastering the nuances of the five tones–we might have had more success and then been able to move on to bigger goals.
3. Analyze your choice of goal. Take some time to figure out how serious you are about your resolutions. Why do you want to achieve this particular thing? Make sure your reasons are good enough and your motivation is strong enough to keep you going even when it’s hard. For example, if your goal is to shed some pounds this year, first analyze your reasons for wanting to do so. Simply wanting to look better may not be strong enough motivation when you have worked a 12-hour day and there is no healthy food in your house and you don’t have the energy to exercise and those cookies your neighbor made are sitting so conveniently on the counter. You are going to need some weighty reasons for your need to change. If you want to lose weight because you want to live a long, vibrant life or you want to be able to wake up in the morning and feel more alive, you might be more likely to stick to your purpose when it gets rough.
3. Replace an old habit with a new one. Some experts suggest that getting rid of bad habits and putting good ones in their place is a good way to make big changes. Maybe you have a habit of coming home from work every day and watching two hours of TV. Maybe one of your goals is to start a business. Instead of saying, “I am going to work on my business for two hours every day,” say “In place of watching TV after work, I am going to work on my business for two hours.” Taking away an old habit and replacing it with a new one gives that new habit a place in the daily schedule. It also makes you rely on that new habit more, making you need it to fill the hole that taking the old habit out created.
4. Write it down and outline the specifics. Make a written record of your goals. When you write something down, you make it real. Writing down my goals has allowed me to be more accountable to myself and given me a stronger desire to reach those goals because I don’t want to blow off a commitment I put in writing.
After you have written your goals down, make a written plan for how you will accomplish your goals. Decide what your daily steps will look like. When I am training for marathons, I write down what my daily mileage has to be in order to reach my final goal. The satisfaction that comes from putting a checkmark next to those miles as I accomplish them might be more than the later satisfaction of crossing the finish line.
5. Be vocal. Tell others about your goals. When you tell others about something you are trying to accomplish, it makes you feel more pressure to actually reach your goals because others are watching your progress. One year I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in which you write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. I told lots of people about it, including my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, and my sister, and having told these people was a great motivator for me when I was two weeks in and all out of words and wanting to quit. I didn’t want to have to say when asked about my progress, “Oh, I gave that up.” The avoidance of shame is an excellent motivator.
6. Expect some bumps along the way. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail. You will fail (at least) a few times; it’s part of being human. If you beat yourself up over failing, you may not have the desire to start again. But if you recognize that a little bit of slipping up here and there will be part of the process, you will be much more likely to stick to your goals for the long haul.
If all we do is make goals and then discard them year after year, it can start to feel like change is impossible. But this is not true. In fact, one of the best parts of life is that glimmer of possibility that we can shape ourselves into better people. By using these tips, you can turn your New Year’s resolutions, or any goals you make, into realities. Then you can taste the euphoria that comes from doing hard things and looking back at the progress you’ve made along the way.