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  • Proactive Happiness

This year, I am going to…..TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

Well, dear friends, 2020 is finally coming to an end. It has been a challenging year; one that brought about a ton of reflection, and has shown us just how much we can all overcome. With 2021 knocking on our doors, have you given any thought to the new year and what kinds of positive changes you are hoping to make?

Many of us are born with an innate desire to improve ourselves, and New Year’s Resolutions are a fabulous tool to help us bring positive changes about…..when applied in the right way. Unfortunately, most of us go about things in a manner that results in failure of accomplishing what we set out to do, giving rise to apathy after reaching a point where it feels pointless to even try. When I say most of us, I really mean MOST of us, because they say that less than ten percent of people who make New Year’s Resolutions are successful in accomplishing what they set out to do (and that doesn’t even consider the rest who don’t even bother to set a resolution in the first place!)

So, what are we doing wrong?!? There are a few fundamental mistakes we make when we think about creating (and sticking to!) a New Year’s Resolution.

First (and this one is a big one!), we set out some GIANT (and incredibly broad) goals for ourselves. They seem reasonable to us at the time, but when we start pulling apart what is behind these resolutions, we start to see just how many layers there truly are. For example, let’s take the #1 resolution each and every year – you guessed it – losing weight. On the surface, this looks like a perfect resolution, but here is where the problem begins. Wrapped up in the “simple” resolution of losing weight are a TON of different "mini-resolutions". If we take it one level down, we are talking about eating healthier, eating less, decreasing alcohol consumption, exercising more, etc. etc. But that isn’t even the lowest level! Taking it a step further, we look at eating healthier, and that could consist of eating more vegetables, avoiding fast food, avoiding fried foods, eating more fiber, drinking more water, and on and on. Suddenly the resolution of “losing weight” doesn’t seem so simple anymore.

Some other factors that typically work against us and achieving our resolutions are things like making a resolution to appease someone else (or to meet society’s expectations), looking for instant gratification (which is a bit unrealistic when we consider we’re talking about some big, positive, long-term changes), and relying strictly on will power (versus changing behavior and habits) to bring a resolution to fruition.

Argh! That is a lot working against us! However, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your chances of success, and to overcome the things discussed above when creating your resolution.

To start with – think about creating a resolution that is both kind and positive – not one that is punitive. If you hate running, don’t set a resolution for yourself to run three times a week. Think about other forms of exercise that you enjoy doing instead (walking? dancing? full contact shuffleboard?). The idea here is to bring about positive change – not to punish yourself for the next 365 days.

Next is to get clear on why you’re making the change. We mention above the idea of making a resolution to appease someone else or to meet society’s expectations of what you should be. The problem here is that if you’re not trying to bring about a change you truly want, you will not be committed to making it happen, and the first chance you get, you will be JUMPING off that wagon. Before you make that resolution, spend some time thinking about the change you’re looking to make, and why it matters to you.

Once you’ve gotten clear on why the change matters, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Identify some small, and specific, action items that will serve as the first steps to helping you accomplish that change. These action items become your resolution. This is a great place to incorporate the idea of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable/attainable, relevant and time-based). Start with one or two small action items to focus on. It may seem frustrating, or insignificant, to focus on small action items, but remember – you can always add more as you go! By creating a resolution that is specific and measurable, you will always know if you are on track to accomplish your goal – there is no grey area.

Last, but not least, remember that this is intended to be a long-term, positive change you’re implementing. That being said, don’t be too hard or unrealistic with yourself. For example, starting on January 1 may not be terribly realistic for some. You may still be in full holiday mode, and not back in your normal routine….which could dramatically impact your odds of success right out of the gate! To improve your chances of success, consider planning to start the new resolution on January 15 instead. If this is a long-term change you’re looking to make, those 15 days will not be a deal breaker.

Now you have made your resolution, you know why you’re doing it, and you have your plan of how to make it happen. Beautiful! On to the next step – staying committed to the resolution for the year!

Number one – focus on changing the behavior – the habit. Reliance on will power will only get you so far, and most of us will eventually cave when relying strictly on will power. Changing a habit sounds like a massive undertaking, but there is a simple and effective method for changing habits. To begin with, start small – identify the action item you’re looking to change (which you already did when creating your resolution!) Next, tie that action item to a current habit. Is your resolution to start stretching every day? Tie it to something you do every day already: “Every day before I eat lunch, I will spend five minutes stretching.” When you get to a point where you’re ready for lunch, this is your trigger to put your new habit into practice. The last piece of the puzzle – perform the new habit and repeat!

Next, find some support! Let others know what you’re trying to do so they can support you throughout the year. Think about different ways to “support yourself” as well. Print some inspirational quotes, find a picture that reminds you of why you’re making this change and what it means to you – place these things somewhere you will see them frequently. It can also be helpful to get an accountability partner – someone who will help provide additional strength when you have moments of weakness. Make sure this isn’t someone who will be leaning with you when you have your moments of weakness! Consider a friend, a parent…even a coach!

Set milestones and celebrate them. Thinking of doing something for a year can seem like a really long time, but if you break it down into month, or quarter, blocks it becomes much more palatable. If you have been successful for the first quarter, reward yourself with a favorite treat (a massage, a new pair of socks, a day off…..whatever is really special for you!)

And finally, go into this knowing that you WILL stumble at times. When you’re talking about changing behaviors or habits, there will be times when you slip up. That is okay! Anticipate it, and have a plan in your mind for how to respond when this happens. How are you going to get back up on that horse when you have those moments?

Making New Year’s Resolutions is a great way to bring positive change into your life. Follow these suggestions to be part of that ten percent that achieves their New Year’s Resolutions this year! You’ve got this!

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