It’s a new year, which means a fresh start, a chance to do all of the things you set out to do last year (but never did), and kick off with a hopeful beginning to a new year.
Or if we’re being honest, it’s a chance to make unrealistic resolutions that we will almost definitely break before the end of the month. Why is it that on January 1st we’re all motivated to be better and make a change, but by February 1st we can’t even remember what resolutions we pretended to care about a month ago?
It’s because for most of us, resolutions don’t work.
Resolutions are like the empty threats you tell your kids — you mean them when you say them, but you also know you’re never going to follow through. And then you feel guilty over your inability to actually achieve your goals, which leads you to feel worse about yourself rather than inspired and confident. So you set more resolutions, and fail all over again. It’s a vicious cycle, a pattern of self-destruction and we say it’s time to break the chain.
Say it with us: F%&k Resolutions!
Did you know that, according to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February?  80 percent! Why is it that our resolutions never seem to stick? There are countless potential culprits — we set unrealistic goals that we can’t possibly achieve; we make resolutions during a brief moment of passion on New Year’s Eve; we want change but we expect fast (and impossible) results and quit before we even begin.
Bottom line: The vast majority of us set intentions and we never follow through. And it seems that one of the most prominent reasons we are destined to fail is that we set resolutions without establishing the necessary systems to help us achieve those big ideas and end results.
Experts agree that we need fewer resolutions and way more steps to get us to where we want to be. According to Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC, for Psychology Today, we often set resolutions that aren’t clear and aren’t in line with our actual needs and objectives. “Uncertainty about your goals creates room for indifference, confusion, and distance between your goals and your aspirations,” she explains. And that indifference leads to more distress as opposed to satisfaction. Susan Weinschenk Ph.D., explains that there is actual science behind why most resolutions fail: “science of habits and the science of self-stories.”
Essentially, in order to actually make a change in your life, you need to alter your existing habits or create new (more beneficial) habits. You need to rewire your brain to stick to a new set of conditioned responses that will keep you on your path to achieving your resolutions. In addition, you need to change the stories you tell yourself about who you are so that your mind can positively influence the decisions that you make. If you’re not doing those things as you tackle your New Year’s resolutions, then you’re setting yourself up to fail this year.
So, now what? Are we all doomed to ditch our resolutions and restart this whole process over again in 12 months? Absolutely not. This year it’s time to stop setting unreasonable goals, and instead we’re going to focus on creating systems to help us succeed one step at a time.
Creating Systems for Success Begins With Your Wording
Let’s start with how you word your resolutions. It seems like a minuscule detail of this larger and often overwhelming goal, but wording is everything. aying, “I’m going to lose weight” is way more effective than saying “I’m going to eat a protein-rich breakfast every day and replace fatty foods with more vegetables.”
Instead of vowing to save money, state exactly how much money you will save and how you plan to cut that amount out of your daily expenditure. Be specific with your words and very clear in what your goals are on a small and large scale (spend $3 less each day (small picture) and save money for the year (large picture).
Establish Small Goals Within a Larger Goal
By being specific and clear with your wording you can also set smaller goals that fall within your larger resolution. Committing to getting in shape is a great idea for almost all of us, but how will that action plan actually look on a daily basis? Will you walk for 20 minutes a day? Take the stairs instead of the elevator? Wake up and meditate for 5 minutes each morning? Try one new fitness class a week?
Set smaller goals that will help you reach your larger goal, and as you accomplish each of those smaller steps you will have something to celebrate and acknowledge as you work towards your overall goal.
Get a Pen and Paper and Start Writing it Down
Write down every single one of your resolutions, as well as all of the smaller steps you plan to take to help you get there. Write them down in whatever way works for you: flow charts, journals, dream boards, check lists, or even essays and letters to yourself. The important step here is to actually put things down on paper, to take time to write them down, and to have a physical reminder of what you have set out to do. There’s scientific proof that actually writing something down can help you store that information in your brain and then use it for decision making moving forward.
According to Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ and the author of Hiring For Attitude in an article for Forbes, when you come up with an idea you demonstrate better memory of that concept. And “when you write down your goal, you get to access the “generation effect” twice: first, when you generate the goal (create a picture in your mind), and second, when you write it down because you’re essentially reprocessing or regenerating that image.”  So, if you write down your resolutions you’re far more likely to actually have those goals influence your decisions throughout the year.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Deadlines. Deadlines. Deadlines. For every goal (and every sub-goal and small step) give yourself a due date. That doesn’t mean you need to treat the deadline as an all-or-nothing date. But establish a date to check in and see how you are progressing, and if you need to, set several dates so you keep tabs on how you are doing and hold yourself accountable. And pretty please do not make the deadline December 31st. While it may take an entire year, or three years or ten years to make a goal a reality, you need to be constantly checking in on yourself. And remember that it’s okay to re-evaluate your goals and adjust them as you go. Sometimes it takes a few weeks or months of work to realize if something doesn’t feel right or isn’t really what you wanted after all.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
It goes without saying that if you are invested in a goal you’ll be more motivated to make it a reality. And we mean literally invested; as in, if you put your money where your mouth is, you just might make an extra effort to get things done. If you don’t just say, “I want to get in shape,” but you also pay for a gym membership or buy a 10-pack of fitness classes at a local gym, then you’re more likely to actually break a sweat.
If you say “I want to get promoted at work,” and you sign up for continued education classes or pay to be a part of a networking organization then you’re more likely to see results and push yourself to make it worth your while (and your money). Sometimes just saying you want to make a change isn’t enough; you need to be fiscally invested in yourself.
Commit To a Plan With a Partner
Everything is better with friends, even resolutions and goal setting. Find a friend, family member or colleague who shares your vision and team up with them to keep one another in check. You can establish weekly check-in times when you compare notes about how you are doing sticking to your plan, or to vent about how hard it is to stay the course. If you have someone supporting you you’re more likely to not only reach your goal, but also handle the stress and anxiety that comes with a new year, new goals and change. Use your partner as a support system so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or discouraged as you tackle one hurdle at a time.
Plan For Failure
The harsh reality is that many of us will fail to accomplish our goals, and even those of us who do ultimately reach our goals will have some pitfalls along the way. And that is okay. In fact, failure is oftentimes a necessary bump in the road where resolutions are concerned. But it’s how you get back up and keep going even after you fail that will determine if you’re able to achieve your goals. You’ve heard the saying “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” You need to establish a system for what you will do if (and when) you mess up. If you skip a week at the gym do you just throw in the towel altogether? Heck no. You start the next week fresh with a new fitness class and you compensate for that lack of activity by bulking up on nutritious foods and drinking extra water.
If you forget to call back family members despite your goals to be more responsive with your communications do you just give up and fall back into old bad habits? Absolutely not; you already have a plan for that. You make a couple of calls a day, you apologize to the people you love and you set aside an hour each day to catch up with loved ones. You get the gist: make a plan for what to do while you are succeeding, and also make a plan for what to do even if you fail.
Remember It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint.
Never forget that New Year’s resolutions don’t happen overnight. If you’re expecting instant gratification and a quick fix, you’re bound to be unsatisfied. Think about the big picture, but approach each step as a small move in the right direction. Cut yourself some slack along the way, but never waiver from the plan you wrote down when you first created a vision for the New Year. Once you have a system for success, you’re far more likely to get to where you want to go.