It’s the third week in January. Oscar buzz is in full swing and while the stars in Hollywood are rehearsing their acceptance speeches, many of us at home, standing on our scales, or prone on our couches are rehearsing our concession speeches—to our new year’s resolutions. “I’m sorry, I blew it. Again. I don’t know why I thought I could lose weight, I’d like to apologize to my waist, my jeans, my pencil skirt…” Cue the exit music and get off the stage.
Hold on there. Rewind. It’s not curtains yet and it doesn’t have to be.
We live life with a go big or go home expectation that just doesn't fit when it comes to making changes. Resolutions are the opportunity to create new habits and new habits take time. Maybe our resolutions weren’t a failure at all, but our expectations about how quickly we could turn them into a routine missed the mark. If you can cut the perfectionist referee and trade in a sustainability expert, what you're looking for is a growing trend towards the goal. Getting to the point where you miss the good feeling associated with doing x (going to the gym, flossing) more than you dread it doesn’t happen overnight.
If you give up now, you know that the same goal will likely be waiting for you come next year. Be more efficient with your energy-- stick with it now, value what you’ve already invested, and keep moving forward one small step at a time.
So if you’re meeting your goal even occasionally, that somewhat "spotty" track record in the beginning may actually be a sign that you're in the game for good -- because you've been able to work toward your goal in real time -- not exhaust yourself doing things perfectly for two weeks before realizing -- I can't do this anymore!
Here are six quick ideas to help you stick with your plan even when things get imperfect and be the change you want to see in the new year and beyond.
A Slip is Not a Slump
Research shows that it takes three weeks to establish a new habit. That's not three weeks of perfect performance-- that's three weeks of ups and downs, hits and misses. So when that first missed day at the gym happens, don't let the slip turn into a slump, the sun will come out tomorrow, and it's your chance to get back on track.
Round Up, Not Down
You have a choice to see the glass half full or half empty. Let's say you've only met your goal 50% of the time-- or even 30%-- you went to the gym two days, not four or five. You have a choice-- you can say-- I've only gone to the gym twice, or, I actually went to the gym twice! Narrate well. Build commitment.
Keep Score: Fairly
Don't write down whether you hit your goal for the week or the month; give yourself credit each day. Write down your accomplishments on a calendar in bold colors. It might not look like much at first, but keep going. After a few weeks, a couple of red stars a week will convince you of the staying power of your goal.
Nothing Is Set in Stone
We may feel that once we've set a resolution, we're locked in. We either meet it or we don't. Let yourself learn from experience when theory goes into practice. If you find that you're not meeting your goals, ask yourself why: do you need to adjust your expectations, bring a buddy for support, or work in reminders or reinforcements for your effort? Any forward movement is better than none. Flexibility keeps you in the game.
If you aren't meeting your goals-- look for the reasons why. Have you earmarked time that is dedicated to that activity? Is it convenient enough? Was it really the right goal for you, or is there something else which would be a better fit.
Sure we can try to keep a running to-do list in our heads, but better to set an alarm on your phone (even better if you use a funny sound). Sure, you might ignore the alert sometimes, but if it's on daily it takes the responsibility out of your hands to remember. It's like a personal valet saying: Gym time now (ribbit, ribbit).
So don’t give up on yourself and your vision for change. This is the very best time to keep chipping away at your resolutions, persist with your goals, and make adjustments to keep the momentum going. With slow, steady small progress over the next few months, who knows, come spring when the Oscars are but a memory you may just be hooked on your new habits and starring in a whole new role in your life.