The battlefield at Manassas
New Year’s resolutions don’t stick because people are not proactive by nature. It’s something that takes work and motivation. Individuals who aren’t proactive tend to follow the path of least resistance. They do nothing until necessary.
So how can you be proactive and make your resolutions stick? Drop the usual excuses. No time? Take a close look at your daily schedule and make time by getting rid of unimportant activities. Always forget? Put it on your calendar and set reminders. Overwhelmed? Break it down into doable tasks. I’m sure you have other excuses. With each excuse, identify the excuse and think of a way to cut it.
Make several resolutions and try to do them all. That way, even if only one new habit sticks through the end of the year, you will still finish with a gain. Convert each resolution into a set of small, easy, and actionable tasks. Set aside regular times to practice each, but not so often that you get discouraged whenever an unforeseen event crops up. Want to start exercising? Start by just making it to the gym once a week. Want to take a trip to Thailand? Start by setting aside 30 minutes every Sunday to research and plan. Want to volunteer more? Sign yourself up now, not tomorrow or sometime this week or at some undefined point in future time. The point is to conquer the laziness that is part of human nature and take action, no matter how small the action.
Another reason why most resolutions fail is that they are ambiguous. Many people make resolutions like “lose weight,” “eat healthier,” or “quit smoking,” but have no plan for how to achieve those goals. Make sure you have a plan of action when making a resolution. Here are some of the perennial most popular New Year’s resolutions and some ideas on how you can get started:
Lose weight, be fit, eat healthy – Weigh yourself every day with a bio-impedance scale and track weight and body fat, because as Peter Drucker once said, “what gets measured, gets managed.” Get on a diet you can maintain long-term (don’t obsess over which diet, just pick one that looks doable and start it now). Replace certain unhealthy foods for healthier alternatives. Schedule a cheat day each week when you can eat whatever you want (this will make sticking to a diet easier). Exercise regularly. If you have trouble sticking with it, hire a trainer, recruit a workout buddy, or force yourself to get in a gym at least once a week.
Learn something new – This is a very ambiguous resolution. Be sure to define exactly what you want to learn or try. Once you know what you want to learn, find a class and sign up, or buy some how-to books on the topic and start reading and practicing. Don’t be intimidated by people who have been practicing the skill for a long time. Everyone has to start somewhere, and new skills tend to come faster than most people think. Just set aside a regular time to practice and learn and stick with it (half an hour each day in the morning or before bed is a good starting point).
Quit smoking/alcohol/caffeine – While I don’t know much about quitting smoking or alcohol, I do know a lot about quitting caffeine. The key is to very gradually bring down the volume each day. For caffeine, reducing by half a cup of coffee per day works for me. If you start experiencing unbearable withdrawal effects, it just means you’re reducing too quickly.
Help others – People tend to fail this resolution by simply not taking the initiative. Take action now. Sign up to volunteer today. Set aside an amount to donate per year or month, then follow through. Consider helping others with your strengths (have you even thought about what your strengths are?). Do you know anyone that you care about that you can help?
Spend more time with friends and family – Resolve to contact a family member or friend that you haven’t talked to for a long time each week. Go out to dinner with your friends once a week. Invite people over for special events like the Super Bowl or a weekend barbecue.
Enjoy life more – This will vary from person to person, so you must define exactly what would make your life “happy.” One thing you can do now is to take at least one day a week to do absolutely no work that you do not enjoy. Stop multi-tasking and be mindful of one task at a time. Take some time every day to relax. Read a book or watch TV before sleeping. Set aside time and budget to explore a new hobby or discover new things. Is there something you always wanted to do but have been putting it off? Now is the time.
Spend less, save more – The number one money priority should be to get out of debt. Make a schedule to repay your debt and stick with it. Keep track of what you spend money on. What are your biggest expenses every month? Is there any way to cut back on them? Think of ways to increase the amount of money coming in.
Take a trip – Find a notebook and start researching now! Where do you want to go? What will the costs be? How much time will you be traveling? Start saving the money and time you will need, then make it happen.
Get organized – Define exactly what are you need to organizing. What is your ideal organization? Set up a schedule to do a little at a time (or, just mark everything for trash and take out what you want to keep). Do you have a to-do list that just keeps growing? Try resolving to take care of two tasks for every one you add to the list.
Reduce, reuse, recycle – identify actions you can take and do them. Find out where you are wasting most. Examine the trash that leaves your house every week. What makes up most of the trash? Can you think of ways to reduce the amount of trash you put on the curb every week?
Pretty much all other resolutions – Just do it. Set aside half an hour every day to devote to the resolution. You can use the time to research and plan. Once you have a plan, execute.
Want to become perfect for the new year? Try taking action on all of the resolutions listed above. If you succeed at least a little bit, you will at least become better this year.