Making Meaning in the Year Ahead

Tips for making New Year's resolutions that last.

Posted Jan 02, 2020

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Listing Our Goals Helps Make Them Real.
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Eighty percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Most of them are given up on before the end of January.

What can we do to make change more permanent? Perhaps part of the solution lies in making meaning, rather than trying to force change.

Let’s make successful resolutions. Here are three tips to make meaning and the corresponding change it brings.

1. Choose what’s most important. One of the problems with making New Year’s resolutions is that we often make too many. We want to get healthy, work out regularly, lose weight, start our day earlier, take on a new commitment, set better boundaries in our relationships. It’s overwhelming.

How can we choose? Sit quietly and consider all the choices you have in front of you, or write a list of all the things you’d like to be different in your life and the benefits you would get from making each particular change. There’s no limit to what you can put down on paper or consider in your meditation.

Look at and think about the list you have created. Are there any items that rise to the top? Are there items that can be combined?

Once the most important changes have been identified, consider the action steps that will need to be taken to get you where you want to be. Change is about the journey, not the destination. If you want to exercise more and to be of service to dogs, two seemingly different goals, you might start a dog walking business, volunteer to walk dogs at the local animal shelter, adopt a dog that needs a home, or learn how to train a service dog. Each of the actions would help you be both more active and of service to dogs. All you have to do is choose which actions resonate most for you.

The value in choosing what’s important is that you increase your likelihood of success by focusing on activities that will bring you pleasure. If the daily actions you take to reach your goal brighten your life, you will be less likely to give up on them than you would if you white knuckle through something you dislike doing.

2. Focus on one goal at a time. In order to make lasting change, it’s often a good idea to choose one action and focus on that. If your goal is to be stronger, set up a simple exercise schedule that includes weightlifting, yoga, and other appropriate exercises, but limit your commitment to one action step each day. Make it like brushing your teeth—non-negotiable. We do our non-negotiables as a matter of course.

When we dilute our attention by trying to make several changes at the same time, we set ourselves up for failure. Our lives are already busy. Thinking that we can add two or three more things to our daily schedule is unreasonable.

Instead, start with one relatively easy action to get you toward your goal. If you want to lose weight, start with making a better choice at lunch each day or not eating after 8 p.m. instead of creating an elaborate meal plan that you’re not likely to stick to. Set yourself up for success by making small steps that you can accomplish.

3. Ask for support. The Beatles knew what they were talking about when they crooned, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” In isolation, we can usually find a million and one reasons not to do what we set out to do. In order to reach your goals, ask your friends and family for support and a place to be accountable.

If you commit to walking every morning, have a friend you can text when you get home from your walk. Share your accomplishment. If you want to stock your fridge with healthier food, go with a friend to the farmer’s market each week. There are ways to involve your support system in your change. The more you do that, the more likely you are to succeed.

Perhaps most important, recognize that a setback is not the end. Sometimes, the chocolate cake is more powerful than our intentions. That’s OK. Reconnect with your support system and keep going. The path to change is full of stumbles. Don’t let that get you down. Celebrate each positive step and before you know it, you’ll have successfully reached each one of your goals.

References

Luciani, J. (2015). Why 80 Percent of New Year's Resolutions Fail. US News and World Report. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail