I'm going to write some of the scariest and stressful words in the English language:
New Year's Resolutions.
Those three little words can stress some people out and annoy others. We make jokes about promptly quitting them, about tempting ourselves and others with indulgences, and otherwise react strongly when we hear about resolutions.
I don't blame anyone for feeling that way. Resolutions are about changing yourself and conscious change is really hard.
There's actually a fascinating history behind New Year's resolutions. Ancient Babylonians would make promises to pay back debts at the beginning of the new year, and Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. So the idea of planning change is hardly anything new, but we've made a multi-million dollar industry around people's attempts at self-improvement.
There's a world of fad diets, crazy exercise programs, online college courses, and a million other temptations that companies use to try to sell us the tools to make change easier. But the problem with these methods is that people go in with little planning or structure on how to make those changes happen.
So, what do you want? Lose weight? Finish a novel? Learn a language? Save money? Take a trip? Well, here's how we do it.
Don't think in terms of Resolutions, but think in terms of Projects.
"Resolutions" have become a loaded word these days. It's also too vague and open ended. When attempting to make a change in your life, you want to have concrete goals in mind, which will lead to our next tip.
So don't think of your resolutions as open-ended wishes. Make them projects instead. A project is more concrete, and gives you a frame work for achieving what you want to accomplish.
Plan your work, work your plan
When you're making a plan, your first step should be to ask yourself HOW you're going to achieve your goals. Do you need classes? Coaching? A gym membership? Therapy? Supplies?
Break down the tasks you need to do. Small concrete steps are easier to take than bigger open ended ones. So make a list of the steps you need to do and GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE FOR EACH.
The enemy of success isn't failure, it's lack of commitment. You can attain at most reasonable goals if you stick to it but you have to follow through. So make deadlines and hold yourself to them.
Don't Try to Remove Bad Habits. Try Adding Good Habits
One of the big resolutions I've always struggled with was losing weight. I went on fad diets, counted calories, cooked more broccoli and chicken breast meals than I could count, went to boutique gyms, ran cross-country, and injured myself in a dozen different ways trying to get better. My mentality was all or nothing, and when I got hurt I got depressed and gave up.
I ran the problem past a trainer that I had been working with and he said the problem with austerity is that most people can only hold out for so long. Sooner or later we indulge in something and we start backsliding. So instead of thinking about cutting bad habits out of my life, I should thing about incorporating GOOD habits. Make sure I make a habit of eating a healthy meal daily, rather than swearing on only eating brown rice and broccoli forever.
It's easier to add than it is to subtract when it comes to behavior. The more success you have, the more you will modify your behavior.
Time Boxing Techniques
A lot of people want things that require focused study. The problem is, it's a lot easier to maintain that focus in an acadamic setting. If no one is looking over your shoulder and helping you stay motivated, you have to do it for yourself.
That's where time boxing techniques come into play.
Time boxing methods such at the Pomodoro technique are based around the idea that the human brain can hyperfocus on intellectual work for around 25 minutes or so before the mind starts to wander and look for a distraction.
So utilize that. Set a timer for yourself and work on your project for those twenty five minutes. When it's done, take a ten minute break. Walk around, stretch your legs, grab a snack, or goof around online for a bit. Whatever you need to refresh yourself. Then, do another 25 minutes. I like to do three or four of these before breaking for longer. It is surprisingly easy to achieve quite a bit when you focus yourself.
Finally, the most important rule:
Don't Beat Yourself Up
The hardest battle we have is with ourselves, and it doesn't help when we admonish ourselves for our missteps. People will get rigid about their plans but if they miss a day and they try to overcompensate the following day. That can often lead to a spiral of missed days, which can lead to despair, which can make people give up.
Don't do that. For the purposes of your goals, never fixate on failures. Start each day new. Take the same steps you would have taken before.
Re-evaluate your plan. Maybe you're doing too much or too little. Find a way that actually WORKS in getting you towards your goal.
Ultimately it's not a resolution. It's a lifestyle change.