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How to Not Screw Up Your New Year's Resolutions

A Personal Perspective: Nearly all of us give up our resolutions early on.

Key points

  • A process focus engages the growth mindset needed to keep resolutions going.
  • A scale focus makes it more likely for you to accomplish your resolutions.
  • A community focus helps you troubleshoot, make adjustments, and have fun fulfilling your resolutions.
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"We plan and God laughs"—Old Yiddish Proverb

Don't feel bad if you're terrible at keeping your New Year's resolutions. Nearly all of us are bad at keeping them. Recent research shows that 91 percent completely give up by January 19th, and that's of the brave of us who even set resolutions in the first place.

If you'd love to realize the dreams you have for the coming year and get way past Quitter's Day, here are some simple tips to make them a reality.

Tip 1: Let Process Fire Your Resolutions

Keeping your eye on the prize can be a really good thing, especially when it makes you specific and focused about what your goals are and how you can reach them. But many people overvalue this side of the equation at the expense of tuning into process.

Process is the ever-changing relationship you have with your goals, and it is meant to be fluid and imperfect. Think of it like allowing yourself to just meditatively notice whatever it is you are or are not doing with your goals and wonder why and how this is. Not how they have to be. Your process can and should shift and change like the weather without any concern whatsoever.

Resolutions are way too decisive and perfect to be any kind of true creative process; creativity stems from learning from what surprises you rather than from what you've already forecasted. We set ourselves up for failure from the start by feeling like they have to be so resolute in the first place.

Instead of stressing that you're hitting your outcomes at each turn, ask yourself: Am I regularly having contact and a relationship with my goals and dreams? Like a good romantic relationship, dreams must be courted and allowed to unfold however they need, they don't want to be forced or pushed around.

Whether you are trying to increase the number of pages you're writing on the great American novel or trying to shed a few pounds, process gets you coming back to nonjudgmentally noticing your own way of approaching things. What are the things that really motivate and inspire me to work on these goals? And even more important, what gets in the way and how can I subversively give voice to that too? Process doesn't get bothered by these questions, it gets intrigued.

Instead of getting critical about what gets in the way, process makes you see it from a growth mindset: What else can I learn about myself by engaging this more compassionately and with more curiosity? Coming from a place of unconditional curiosity, joy, and love rather than a place of obligation, fear, or judgment, process is a more faithful Muse sure to keep you fired up about your resolutions throughout the year.

Better yet, process provides the necessary stuff you need to make adjustments so that your goals are not only more attainable but also a whole lot more fun. As REBT therapist Albert Ellis used to say, stop 'shoulding' on yourself and start tapping into the process.

Tip 2: Shrink Your Year for Better Results

It's punny for a therapist to tell you to shrink your year, but it actually will do the trick better than any counselor and the proof will be there in the results. Focusing on a year is too big and ambitious and the psyche tends to give up or shut down too easily.

A better tack is to divvy up your year into smaller segments. A fantastic approach is found in the book The Twelve Week Year. By scaling down your resolution to three months, you tend to feel much less pressure and angst.

Within that more doable and comfortable container, you'll make a big specific goal that is worked out through smaller mini-goals to get you there day to day and week to week. Because your goals are closer to the here-and-now scale, you tend to more naturally engage what we've done above, keeping process as the engine of your resolutions.

As the saying goes, "if you want something done, give it to a busy person." Putting your goals into a framework that feels more limited and compressed provides us with a psychological push of immediacy that is a much better springboard than the sprawling specter of the year.

Tip 3: Find the Right Accountability Partners

Just as process thrives on a relationship with yourself, productivity purrs along when it finds a relationship with another kindred spirit working alongside you. Accountability instinctively helps us brainstorm to find solutions to the vexing roadblocks we often find in driving our resolutions home. We also tend to accelerate helping ourselves by focusing on helping others. Accountability partners are often much more compassionate than that impersonal and savage critic in your own head. They help you find new approaches that enable you to become a more efficient and kindhearted troubleshooter.

It's important to find accountability partners who have a both-and orientation to process and outcome. Of course, we always want to be moving closer and closer to our goals, but we also want to have someone who is just as intrigued and interested and rolling with the adjustments necessary to make things hum. In short, our accountability partners become our improv scene partners, helping us to follow our own direction, and find new ways to make interesting moments out of the fun.

Putting Resolutions in Their Proper Place

Beware of making too much out of what is just an arbitrary marker. New Year's is a wonderful and common time for us to engage in this ritual of resolutions, but we can make resolutions at any time. Maybe if we didn't feel so much expectation and pressure because of that New Year we'd all keep those resolutions going so much longer.

Maybe it's the word resolutions that get us in trouble. With its boldness and decisiveness, resolutions are just screaming for the psyche to rebel against them. It's our very healthy last-ditch effort of reminding our resolutions who's boss. Happily, process, scale, and community can help us put resolutions in their proper place.

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