Rules for New Year’s Resolutions

Ready to put those New Year’s resolutions into action? Before you do, you need to ask if they follow the rules.

“Saturday, January 9th, I’m joining a gym.” If you tie your resolution to a specific date, that’s a rules violation. You’re just focusing on a date. You’re not motivated; you’re procrastinating, just kicking the can down the road.

“I’m going to run more to make me get in better shape.” We’ve got two rules violations in this one. First, you’re putting the cart before the horse, using the resolution (“run more”) to motivate you (“Make me get in shape”). Resolutions must be the result of motivation to do something, not the catalyst for generating motivation. “The boss invited me to join in a jog last week and I nearly died of exhaustion. That’s no way to get a promotion. I must get in better shape to keep up with him.” You want to improve your chance of getting a promotion now becomes the motivation for the resolution – running more to get in better shape. It always helps to connect your resolution to a specific motivator: “Warm weather will be here soon and I want to look good at the pool. I’ve got to join a gym”; “I’m in a wedding in three months and I want to fit into a size ­­___ dress. I need to join a gym.”

The second violation is that the resolution is too vague. “I need to be in better shape, so I’m going to run more.” Run more? Get specific. Make a specific distance and time your goals. “Run two miles in less than 20 minutes every morning before leaving for work.” To have any chance of success, a resolution must also involve doable actions and attainable goals: “I will eat a piece of fruit – an apple or a pear – for lunch instead of a sandwich”; “I will do a 30-minute workout at the gym 3 days a week”; “I will walk my neighborhood (or my treadmill) for 30 minutes every day at 3.5 mph if on the treadmill.”

What’s wrong with this one? “I’m going to run two miles every morning before leaving for work so I can qualify for the local marathon in eight weeks.” This resolution is not realistic; it is grandiose and unattainable. “I’m going to reinvent myself – create a new me. For starters I will lose 30 lbs. by February.” Once again, you are showing unrealistic thinking.

A good way to make sure that your resolutions are realistic is to connect them to your values. Specifically, you must engage in values-oriented thinking and make your actions consistent with that thinking. “I love being with my family [your value], but I put off spending more time with my kids and spouse” [an action]. “My job brings me little personal satisfaction[your value], but I put off looking for another one” [an action]. Can you see the disconnect between values and actions? When making a resolution, first identify your values, then devise a plan that will help you coordinate those values with compatible actions.

When making New Year’s resolutions, accept your current situation and be accountable for changing it. No excuses, no shortcuts, no vague, pie-in-the-sky promises. Identify your motivation and make a plan of action that emerges from that motivation to change, not a plan designed to motivate you. Include realistic, attainable, and specific actions and goals in your plan; connect your plan to your values; and, begin now, not at some future date. Happy New Year! 

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