Three Pillars for Turning New Year’s Resolutions into Year-Long Goals

At the time of this writing, it is mid-February.  Statistics and anecdotal evidence suggest that you have already given up on your New Year’s resolution, and most of your friends have, too.  Given the high failure rate, January resolutions have gone out of style.  But it is hard to deny the urge to create a fresh start at the beginning of a shiny new year. 

How do you make your goals for the year more than just a passing thought at the end of a busy holiday season?  Build your goals around three firm pillars, and you may find that your aspirations have greater longevity and lead to greater success.

Pillar #1: Know that January 1 is the starting point, not the finish line.  When we say, we resolve to do something, or not to do something, we are making a promise to ourselves.  We are saying that from the first day of the year, we will always perform one thing or never do another.  Maybe you have decided that you will always exercise first thing in the morning, or you will never eat meat again.  Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?  I’m all about that fresh start!  However, what if we flipped the idea of a resolution at the beginning of the year and instead set our eyes on the close of that year?  After all, when we make promises to ourselves in honor of the new year, we typically have not made any changes in our habits or environment to support a completely new activity or way of living.  We are the same on December 31 as we are on January 1, no matter how festive we may feel.  Expecting a sudden and permanent change means expecting failure. 

Instead, I encourage you to not approach a resolution as the beginning of a “new you,” but rather, see the resolution as a series of projects that will cover the entire year or longer.  You are not making a simple promise; you are declaring a year of focus upon a goal that you value.  When you inevitably skip a day or forget your new routine, you have not failed!  You are simply in the middle of a year-long pursuit.

Let’s use the example of creating an exercise habit.  If you want to succeed at this resolution, resist the urge to promise a daily morning exercise session for the rest of your life when you have not been exercising at all.  Instead, look at December 31 as the date when you will have fully realized your goal.   For the early months of the year, commit to one or two workouts per week.  Take notes.  Write down what time of day feels good.  Try a morning workout on a workday and on a weekend.  Compare them.  Try an evening workout.  Sign up for a class, or experiment with a weight-training routine.  In March, mark three workouts per week on your calendar.  Perhaps by spring, you will have found the types of exercise you enjoy, and you will happily add more days.  Your calendar will begin to reflect the evolution of your new habit, and by the end of the year, you are more likely to have built a solid routine than if you had tried to launch into a daily trip to the gym at 5am back in January.

Pillar #2: Put it in writing.  In the world of goal setting, a written goal is the highest priority.  You may have seen quotes and memes that assert that an unwritten goal is nothing more than a daydream.  Sure, there are philosophical reasons to record and reflect upon your ambitions in writing, but I am being completely practical here.  If you have a handful of goals, you are going to forget them.  Even if you are in love with your ideas, and your heart is on fire with excitement, you will forget.

Every year, I set five to ten goals.  I think about them through December, and I finalize my plans during that wonderful week between Christmas and the new year when the world slows down and time seems to stand still.  As we eat leftovers and finish up the Christmas cookies, I finetune my resolutions, making sure that they are clear and measurable.  Somehow, even with plenty of forethought and examination, I forget some of my goals as January passes.  I don’t panic or give up!  I know exactly where I have written my resolutions.  I have them handwritten in my journal, and they are typed and shared in my virtual support group.  My goals may slip my mind, but they are never difficult to locate. 

Write and store your goals.  Then schedule time to revisit the documents.  I check in during the last week of each month, and the more I look, the more I integrate my desired habits into my life.

Pillar #3: Create accountability.  As I mentioned above, I know exactly when I will evaluate my goals each month, and I know that I have shared them with people who keep me accountable. 

Approximately, five years ago, I found a small group of sorority women who were interested in making and achieving goals.  We began sharing our detailed lists, and at least monthly, we shared our successes and setbacks.  It was magic!  Until that group came along — growing organically from friendly conversations about a variety of subjects — I was like the millions of Americans who set resolutions and forget them before mid-winter.  The little group continues, and every year, I gain inspiration from the creativity and ambition of the participants.  We have supported one another through career changes and athletic pursuits, baking projects and travel plans.  We have watched debt be conquered, marriages be built, and babies be born.  I have taken the principles of that impromptu group and carried them to other groups of friends, sharing our simple formula of focus, accountability, and support. 

When you read this post, you may have already forgotten your goals, and 2021 isn’t feeling new anymore.  Start today.  Just as resolutions do not have to be an all-or-nothing practice, they do not have to begin on January 1st.  Write your list, share your plans, and aim high.

Erica Goehring, AΓ


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