There’s something about saying goodbye to one year and celebrating the onset of another that provokes a mindset of change. More than any other time of year, as we progress through the month of January we think about goals and resolutions, and the things we need to do differently if we want to move one step closer to happiness.
Now is the time we can be different. Now we have the incentive to do something we’ve been saying we’ll do for months, or even years. This sense of having a fresh start is somehow a gateway to action.
But does it work?
I have been allured by this idea of a new beginning myself. At the onset of a new year I find myself with a newfound sense of hope and an idea that change will now somehow be easier.
In the past when I made goals I can’t think of a single occasion on which I achieved them. It seems I needed a whole lot more than to turn the page on a calendar to get where I wanted to be. Can you relate?
Given my history it’s been years since I’ve made new year’s resolutions, but I do still find myself looking ahead and thinking about what I would like to be different going forward. It’s human nature. We don’t want to stay stuck in the same place; we want to evolve and grow—become better, become more.
So for the past five years I have done away with the list of goals and instead chosen one word to see me through the year. Last year my word was Restore and the year before I chose Surrender, both of which corresponded to where I found myself in life at the time. I’m still thinking about my word for 2018—it isn’t something that can be rushed.
The idea behind One Word 365 is to choose just one word to live by from January to December. This one word philosophy certainly takes the pressure off and simplifies things. And, depending on how intentional you may be with the process, it can become a daily mantra for living. But the intentionality must be there, or the word simply becomes a romantic idea.
As with resolutions and goals, even selecting just one word to focus on requires focus and a plan, without which we drift and fall back into habitual old ways.
Why resolutions often slide or fail
If you make resolutions, you may notice that a few weeks in your good intentions begin to slide.
There are many reasons, but it has a lot to do with that idea of a fresh start. The start line is in the rear view mirror and “fresh” is now looking a little stale. You’re back into your regular routine after the holidays and the reasons why you didn’t make that change last year have returned to haunt you. It is also likely that when you identified your goals you didn’t get acquainted with the environment around them. That is, your motivation, timing, accountability, barriers and the realities of making these specific changes.
Let’s take a look at those environmental factors a little more closely and see if you can revive those resolutions.
Why do you want this particular change in your life? If your goal is a common one such as weight loss or paying down debt, the answer is obvious: I want to feel more confident and be healthy, or, I want to be debt free to reduce my stress levels and increase my disposable income. But how much do you really want it? To be able to change a habit we have to want the resulting feeling (confidence, peace of mind) more than we want the current state of affairs. For every goal there is a behaviour that has to change, but right now that behaviour may be serving you. It may be comforting to eat the way you eat, or the debt may be a result of unavoidable expenses. Whatever the goal, it’s important to know the pay off of both the current behaviour and the desired change.
If you want to make a change, your desired outcome must be more valuable to you than your current situation (tweet that!)
Change often doesn’t happen just because we decide. The environment and the timing need to be right too. Perhaps you are in a season of feeling emotionally vulnerable, in which case putting pressure on yourself to achieve a goal may be too great of an expectation. On the other hand, be careful not to use “its not the right time” as an excuse. Be honest with yourself about when is a good time to work towards your particular goal and when is not. And don’t let others stand in your way.
Accountability is a weighty word that personally reminds me of being home within curfew as a teenager. But as humans who like to slide around and slip back into comfort zones, being accountable both to ourselves and others is an important part of any successful path to achieving a goal.
If you want to change your life, who are you going to be accountable to for that change? In all likelihood, if it’s only yourself you will be far less likely to succeed. Find an accountability partner and let them be your inspiration when you find yourself slipping into old patterns of behaviour. Let them know from your outset about the size of your want and why it means more to you than who you were before you embarked on this journey. Then have them remind you on a regular basis.
This is the part where the slide becomes the fall and your hopes for change all of a sudden feel far far away. So this is what you need to do: plan and prepare. This is difficult for non type A’s and for those people who generally run a mile from goals, lists and anything involving organization. But take it from a list hoarder: you can’t skip this part. Knowing your barriers and preparing for them is what will take you from point A to B, especially when your path begins to look like a lonely dessert and you feel you’ll never taste water again.
This part also necessitates some self awareness. For example, if your desired change is towards minimalism, yet you know you love to shop, don’t tempt yourself by going near a mall.
Barriers are also often psychological. The brain is a tricky thing—it can convince us of anything it wants, and it’s particularly good at beating us up with words like “failure” and “you’ll never make it.” This is where self-awareness also helps; if you know the thoughts that hold you back, you will be in a better position to recognize and push through them.
5. Reality: recognize that change takes time
We have become a society of quick fixes. We are accustomed to getting what we want and fast. Much of modern technology is about making our lives more efficient and speeding up delivery. Consequently we have become quite an impatient culture; you only have to venture out onto urban roads to see this in action. But when it comes to emotional, psychological and physical change there is rarely a quick fix. These take time, patience, and persistence. And it’s the journey that brings the rewards. Sure, you could have cosmetic surgery to remove 20 pounds but where is the psychological reward? More importantly, what would stop you from sliding back into the habits that produced the 20 pounds in the first place?
Write it down
If you are currently working towards a change in your life, either as part of a New Year’s resolution, or as a continuation of a journey you began last year, why not take the time to work through the above steps and see how you do? It can only serve to assist you on your path and may even teach you something about yourself you didn’t know. Journaling is a tool that not only helps us to express ourselves but is also a very effective tool in organizing and planning.
Share your thoughts
What is the most challenging part about change for you?
Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
Any keys to success you would like to share?