Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution only to break it within weeks? According to ProactiveChange and a University of Scranton survey, about 40 to 45 percent of American adults set at least one resolution. However, by February the majority of us have given up. Is it a useless tradition?
Historian Bill Petro says we can thank Roman statesman Julius Caesar for starting New Year’s resolutions on January 1st. Unfortunately, January 1st is not the best day to make resolutions if you want them to stick. There is a tendency — under the haze of champagne and chocolate — to make declarations based on what’s bothering you at that moment. Instead, be deliberate and set yourself up for success. Here are seven steps to making and keeping resolutions:
1. Reflect — Take time to look back on the previous year and do an honest assessment of what you’ve accomplished. Consider it your personal annual review. Write down what worked and what didn’t. Ask yourself: “What did I do really well? Where is there room for improvement?” Simply take note as an objective observer. Release the self-judgment so you can build self-awareness. Make sure to keep your eye on your larger life vision. Think about what you really want and why you want it. For example, if you want to be healthier, then ask: “Why? What would improved health give me?” Perhaps it’s more energy to travel or play with your kids. Remember, with a motivating “why,” the “how” becomes easier.
2. Refine — Choose one or two meaningful goals that tie into your larger vision for your personal and professional life. Instead of a laundry list of changes, consider what will make the greatest impact on your life. Make sure you are pursuing goals you can control. Then break them into smaller steps. Be sure your goals are framed in the positive and are S.M.A.R.T.E.R.: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based, exciting, and rewarding. For example, if your larger personal goal is to lose weight, reframe it to the positive by asking: “How do I want to benefit?” If it truly is more energy, than perhaps the path is to exercise for at least 30 minutes four days a week.
3. Ramp Up — Ramp up by mapping out mini-goals each week that are achievable. Perhaps for the first week you keep a food and exercise log to become aware of your calories in and calories out. Maybe the second week you start with a 15-minute walk and systematically ramp up to 30 minutes. Consider your mental strategy. How will you psych yourself up? For example, you may post your favorite fitness model picture on your mirror, or a picture of you at your most fit.
5. Reach Out — Get a little help from your friends! Share your goals with those you think will be supportive. Avoid those who are usually downers. Recruit a commitment partner — someone you can share successes and obstacles with and go to for motivation. Communicating your goal in this way actual increases your accountability to the behavior. If you’re short on real life friends who will be positive, then go online and find a support group, or get professional help like a coach. If possible, find a buddy who shares the same goal and work at it together.
4. Ritualize — Once you have ramped up to your base goal, the key is to make this new behavior a habit. It takes at least 28 days of doing something consistently to make it a habit. Ask yourself, “How can I make this new behavior a part of my lifestyle so I’m not relying solely on willpower?” If you’re working on health, reset your kitchen so that the new foods you’re adding will be more visible. Be sure you have workout shoes and clothes that fit and are accessible. Create an external reminder system such as sticky notes on your bathroom mirror and alarm messages on your smartphone. They now have apps, such as Lift, that can also help you keep on track.
6. Record — Use a journal, either handwritten or electronic. This will remind you to take daily actions toward your goals. Note what you accomplished and what challenges you encountered. Use the Power Living core habit of at least five minutes in the morning to reflect on your intentions for the day and at least five minutes in the evening to review and ask, “How did I do?” This will help build personal accountability and self-awareness, and allow you to congratulate yourself on successes and self-correct if necessary.
7. Reward — Treat yourself to rewards for hitting milestones. Even the accomplishment of a small goal is cause for celebration. Be sure to choose a supportive reward. For example, if your overarching goal is to be healthier, don’t reward yourself with a sugar-laden dessert. Instead, get some friends together and do something active, like go dancing.
There is something about the anticipation of a new year that gives us a clean slate and prompts us to recommit to improving ourselves. Use that energy to jumpstart your transformation. Be flexible and have fun. Think progress and throw away perfection. If you fall off course, take the learning and simply start again! With the right strategy and system, you can make it happen. Most of all believe in yourself. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”
Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy is a Harvard-trained strategist, digital consultant and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. She helps companies operate more efficiently and individuals live more effectively through her company Power Living Enterprises. A seasoned yoga/mindfulness teacher and executive/life coach, she is also an internationally-recognized voice in Personal Empowerment, Leadership and Health & Sustainability. In addition, she is the co-author (with her mom, Columbia University-trained journalist Janie Sykes-Kennedy) of Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eyes of a Modern Yoga Master–an inspirational autobiography on 97-year-old yoga master Tao Porchon-Lynch.
For more inspiration, listen to the short audio postcard Step by Step, and watch Dr. Kennedy’s interview on Embracing Change with Tony Award winning actress and Grammy Award winning singer Jennifer Holliday and on Do Something with CEO of Do Something and Founder of Dress for Success Nancy Lublin.
Article originally printed in The Huffington Post.
Read our Power Living New Year’s Affirmation.
Learn more about authentic living in 40 Days to Power Living®: Think, Eat & Live on Purpose and detoxifying your mind, body and spirit in the Seven-Day PWR Detox.