New Year’s Resolutions that WORK

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Whether you think the world is going to end or you’re looking forward to the new year, now is the time to set good intentions and create your New Year resolutions. But there are smart ways and ineffective ways to create resolutions. Essentially, there’s several stages to consider:

1) Reflecting

2) Defining

3) Doing/Maintaining

4) Breaking/Recovering

In each of these phases, there are key points to understand and implement so that you can achieve your resolutions. In fact, it’s helpful to do the following:

1) Print this document! Highlight the things that catch your eye or that you need to do. Reread it throughout the year.

2) Set aside 1 – 2 hours to create your resolutions. Maybe create them over several sessions.

3) Use a calendar to create milestones and know what events might factor into your resolutions.

4) Keep yourself easy breezy. Approach it with a sense of fun and curiosity.

5) Don’t overthink, but do be honest with yourself.

6) Know that it’s not possible to fail. There are no mistakes — there are only lessons from which we learn wisdom. This awareness allows us to be resilient and resourceful.

7) Make your resolutions flexible. The more flexible they are, the less likely you’ll self-sabotage. Essentially, you get to throw perfectionism out the door.

8) Consider all the stages as you create your goals. For instance, you’ll never break a resolution (Stage 4) if you identify self-sabotages and add more support or definition in the Doing/Maintaining stage (Stage 3).

9) Don’t use willpower to maintain your resolutions, use free will. Willpower takes too much energy, but free will is a choice that is made and we can make adjustments along the way.

10) Know that it’s not whether you will succeed, it’s how you will succeed. That’s why considering some of these suggestions will help make your goals more obtainable.

11) You don’t need to create resolutions only at the beginning of the new year. I do mine quarterly or as the inspiration catches me.

12) Forgive yourself for everything you’ve done in the past. Beating yourself up is not going to create greater resolve nor excitement for your task. We’re taught to believe that we must feel guilty, or sad or afraid to not do something. No we don’t. We just have to use our intelligence. Feeling negatively towards yourself will actually make your goals more difficult to achieve.

13) Choose to analyze instead of judge. Judging is about creating opinions and the majority of time they are not fair nor healthy. Analyzing is merely assessing details and determining what is the most pragmatic path given the goals. It’s ok to analyze, it’s not ok to judge or have negative opinions about oneself or others. In fact, the sword we use on others frequently becomes the sword we use on ourselves. Be kind.

14) Adopt an ongoing attitude of forgiveness and love for yourself. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can ignore your goals and indulge your indulgences. It means treating yourself with kindness, respect and guidance. Coach yourself!

In fact, when clients have issues with procrastination, I encourage them to think of themselves as several people: there’s the wise Project Manager and then there’s the part of you that is the valued Team Player/Worker. Our positive work experiences can be leveraged and give us confidence for achieving all goals. The key is: always be courteous and respectful to yourself.

15) Always remember: Life is a gift. It’s a privilege. We don’t have to do anything, we get to. In all activities, let your inspiration be love, not fear.

Now, it’s time to begin.

Reflecting – The Good and the Bad

1) Review the previous year. Contemplate memories, look at pictures and re-read emails. Facebook’s timeline will be very helpful in the reflecting process.

2) Think about the positive experiences. These experiences can be the foundation for new resolutions. In fact, success breeds success and helps you gain confidence. For instance, if you noticed that you made more friends this year, keep that social trend going. For me, I love music, but in 2010, I only went to one block party and a couple of concerts. I allowed other activities to be a higher priority and I realized I missed music! In 2011, I went to six block parties and a couple of shows. My goal for 2012? I’m going to see live music at least once a month and at least 6 art openings.

3) Consider challenging experiences. If you were living paycheck to paycheck, maybe overhauling your financial strategy is a good goal.

4) Be honest with yourself. If you died tomorrow, what would you regret? What did you not get to do, experience or say? This sincere contemplation can reveal new and authentic goals.

5) Evaluate your low priorities. Think about things that fell to the wayside because other goals were a higher priority or lower priorities took more time than necessary. Are some of those lower priorities really disposable? Or should some lower priorities be deleted from your world?

6) Consider personal goals and professional goals. Combining personal and professional goals can be a great way to accomplish more. When I go out, I’m always making friends and there’s always a potential for networking or helping others network. When I exercise, it’s not a luxury, it’s part of my job description! It’s my responsibility as a success coach to keep myself fit and healthy. So I never feel guilty when I go for a run in the middle of the day. I schedule it and make it a priority like I would answer my emails or create an ad.

7) Brainstorm and document. Write all your thoughts down and brainstorm some more. Don’t get bogged down by emotions. Be informed by your emotions, but don’t let them get in your way. Plus, don’t get bogged down by writing paragraphs. Write bullet points. Like I’m doing in this article.

8) Understand your behavior. Reflect on why certain habits are in your life, or why healthy habits fell to the wayside. Many behaviors are learned from family members or friends. Many things that we assume are genetic, actually aren’t. Shyness is not genetic. Eating ruffles potato chips is not genetic. In fact, I use to nibble food through out the day, especially when I was particularly stressed. I reflected back on the roots — and the image that came to mind? My dad eating sunflower seeds! Every time I would nibble at food, I would subconsciously and unconsciously remind myself of my dad and that would comfort me. So now, rather than eating food when I’m not hungry, I chose to think loving thoughts about people.

9) Create your motivation. Evaluate the pros and cons of maintaining your current behavior or adopting new, healthier habits. Really, really be aware of the downside. When I wanted to drop caffeine from my diet, I researched the pros and cons. Although there were some positives, the negatives for me were just too strong. Whenever I was tempted, I just had to think about the negatives.

Diminish any illusions about the benefits of a particular behavior. Ask yourself what serves and what doesn’t serve. In fact, write down the benefits that you’ll gain from making changes in your life. [Note: See more in the “Breaking/Recovering Stage.]

10) Be Optimistic. Don’t worry that you have too many goals or that your dreams are too dreamy. You’ll defer or weed out the ones that aren’t priorities in the next stage.

Defining – Optimism with a Dash of Realism

1) Add scope and detail. For instance, if your goal is to make new friends, what does that mean? How many? Do you want them to be acquaintances, people who will invite you over for Sunday dinner, or people who regularly tell you too much information?

If your goal is to lose weight, how much weight do you want to lose and over what time frame? Normally, people lose weight about 0 to 2 lbs a week. A faster weight drop is not healthy. Consider how you can achieve the weight loss: via working out, sleeping more, smaller food portions, etc. Determine how many times a week you want to work out. Be aware that working out more doesn’t necessarily create weight loss. This past year I had a back injury which limited my workouts and I actually lost weight! Some of that was muscle tone, but by working out too much previously, I was creating more caloric and nutritional requirements. Now as I get back into my fitness habits, I’m actually working out less, I feel less ravenous and am easily maintaining my weight while improving my fitness.

Essentially, determine what means success to you. Break it down into manageable chunks. Make it specific and yet flexible so you can achieve it regardless of the ups and downs that you encounter.

2) Schedule your goal into your life. Realize that your goal will take time and you’ll have to consider ups and downs, holidays, vacations and more.

3) Create milestones and rewards. Perhaps, after you’ve paid down one credit card or tested into the next level of a martial art, you can go see a movie or create a special event. [A gentle reminder: Food is not a reward. Food is sustenance. We can reward ourselves with a nice time out with friends, but it’s important to shift the focus to enjoying the company vs. the indulgence of food. We can enjoy the taste of food, but not the excess of it.] As we broaden our reward systems and change perspective on life, we can feel gratitude more consistently. Soon we can realize that the goal is the reward.

4) Become your goal. Make your goal be a part of your life. Not in an obsessive way, but in a mindful way. For instance, people who chose odd diets have a hard time maintaining them (i.e. the grapefruit diet). But if you chose a healthy, sustainable diet, that’s appropriate for your body, it can become a way of life.

5) Determine priorities. Decide which goals are most important. Rank them top to bottom. Decide which ones are “needs”, “wants” and “desires”. “Needs” are a high priority. Goals that fall into this category are anything health related. Also, consider emotional health as high a priority as your physical health. So, if you are looking for healthier relationships, that goal is just as important as losing weight.

Then evaluate the time element. Maybe one goal is going to be so all-encompassing, that more goals on your plate isn’t advised. Make things simple, take things slow. Sometimes though, goals can complement each other. For instance, while losing weight, you might notice some friends aren’t supportive. By being conscious of healthier relationships, you can make adjustments that support your weight loss! And, we all know, the fastest way to lose weight is by dumping an unrewarding relationship. (ba dam ching.)

Consider using a “Desire” goal as a reward for achieving milestones with your “Need” goal!

6) Create a Resolution Contract or Inspiration Book. In this document, clearly state your goals and the criteria for success. It doesn’t have to be fancy–the success is in achieving the goal, not making a pretty contract. If you don’t want to call it a contract, you don’t have to. But think of it as a deal with yourself.

7) Start! Don’t procrastinate. If you’ve missed January 1st, that’s not a big deal. Start today. Start on a Monday or a weekend. Do what’s best for your schedule.

Doing & Maintaining

1) Choose good role models. Decide who has accomplished similar goals or who exemplify what you want. Have them in mind when you need inspiration. When you hit a road block or self-sabotage, ask what would “X” do? If you are spiritual, bring your belief system into supporting your goal. That purity of energy and intent can help you overcome tough spots. In fact, I remind many of my spiritual clients that we can go to a house of worship, or we can make our bodies, our actions and our lives a house of worship. That perspective can be very supportive as we learn to be more mindful and loving.

2) Choose support buddies. Tell them about your goals, maybe even share your Resolution Contract so they can be inspired and they’ll choose their own goals and you can be mutual support buddies. Also, if more people are perceived as “watching”, we’ll be less likely to backslide.

3) Brand your year. This will help you always be aware of your broader goals. A recent client has declared her theme for 2012 to be the year of “No Fear”. I thought this was a very exciting and inspirational theme. Let all your actions be guided by that theme.

4) Sell it. Create an elevator speech for your goal. It’s just two or three sentences that describe your goal. It’s an easy way to sell it to others and especially to yourself. For instance: “I’m going to lose 15 pounds and eat healthier,” or “I’m no longer drinking coffee.” When people ask you how you’re doing, be prepared for that and know what you will say — especially if things aren’t going well. For instance: “I’m leading a healthier lifestyle, and although I’m having ups & downs, I’m so glad I started this. It’s made such a difference in my life.”

5) Not everyone is going to love your goal. Be prepared for your closest family members and friends to say the oddest things. Allow yourself to understand that they don’t realize what they are saying. Create a forgiving heart towards them. I remember when I was really excited about the upcoming Ultimate Frisbee season and I was telling my mom about it and she said “Why are you still doing that?” Whew. It took the wind out of my sails. But I knew she came from the generation that shows their love by being afraid and worrying. So I paused, laughed and said, “Mom, I love playing Frisbee and I love staying fit. I’m going to keep doing it.” Then I moved us to another topic. [Note: See the “Breaking/Recovering Stage below.]

6) Accept compliments! When someone gives you a compliment, own it! Say “Thank you. I’m really glad I made the decision [to lose weight, or stop smoking, or become healthier].” Even if you’ve had a couple of bad days, still thank them for the compliment and think positively about how you are doing overall.

7) Put yourself first. Focusing your energy on your goals is not selfish. It is actually self-full. Some people may have to adjust to your new priorities, especially you!

8) Beware of energy vampires. When someone says “I wish I could do that.” Don’t get sucked into their pessimism, just say “Yes, you can. Just take the first steps.” And share with them the materials that you used. Maybe invite them to be one of your support buddies. But, very importantly, assess whether they are too negative and make sure their success (or failure) doesn’t come at your expense. If you are in the midst of your process, the majority of your energy should go towards achieving and sustaining your goal.

9) Have backup support. Even your support buddies may not be as excited or dedicated as you. If some of your support buddies drop out, be prepared to go it alone or ring up different friends.

10) Look to experts. Read books and articles to gain new insight and inspiration. Highlight the ideas that are most inspirational to you. Consider creating an inspiration notebook that contains information about experts and their advice.

11) Avoid apathy. Once you have reached your goal or have shown success, sometimes people get a little blasé about it. Like it was too easy. But, it wasn’t easy; it was easier because you prepared for it. Give yourself a pat on the back and give yourself the rewards that you created in your Resolution Contract.

12) Add variety. To resurrect your enthusiasm or create more challenge, broaden the scope of your goals. Or maybe look at other goals you can add. Note: This is not simply raising the bar higher and never acknowledging your achievements. This is about really seeing and knowing what you have accomplished and giving yourself acknowledgement.

13) Visualize success. Imagine what you will feel like, look like, be like when you achieve your goals. Hold this in your mind at all times. See the image of you achieving what you want and decide that that is you. There may be some course corrections along the way, but you will achieve your goal.

Breaking & Recovering – Sabotage Support

1) Know what might sabotage your goal. Think ahead and come up with solutions so it’s easier to keep your resolution. If it’s hard for you to go to the gym once you get home, bring your workout clothes with you and go directly to the gym. If there aren’t healthy food options near work, bring your own food to work (you’ll save money this way too.) Protein shakes are now a regular part of my diet because they help me not skip meals and I don’t have to worry about nutritious options for at least one meal a day.

Try not to deny yourself too much. Often people will break a resolution if they feel deprived. They’ll feel rebellious and resent the resolution. For instance, with my clients, I don’t advocate a particular diet or any diet at all, I just suggest mindfulness and moderation. Also, eating should be a response to hunger and not a distractor for emotions or boredom. Also, a big key: you do not have to cut chocolate or treats completely. Schedule a treat/dessert twice a week. But make sure it’s not that store-bought Hershey’s abomination (sorry Hershey’s). Buy the high-end stuff and eat in moderation. Eat what is healthy for your body and actually tastes good.

Contemplate the downside and the upside. Think how you might feel 1 year, 5 years, 10 years from now if nothing has changed or everything has changed. Write that down and use that as the resolve to motivate and inspire. Know that there are real consequences for not achieving our goals and there are real rewards for achieving them.

Then, consider what your specific fears are: If you’re afraid of failing, write that down. If you’re afraid of succeeding, write that down. If you don’t like to exercise, write that down. Next, reframe those fears and dislikes. Change how you think about them and the language you use. I have clients who don’t like to exercise. So I encourage them to change the word to “activities” or to “play”. You don’t have to use the word “exercise”. Also, we don’t have to run on the treadmill to lose weight. Simply eating less and leading a more active lifestyle will help. Ultimately, whether you’re walking to work, taking the stairs, gardening, or cleaning the house, you are burning calories. Plus, we can think of our exercise or activity time as play time. When I go for a run, I think: I’m going out to play and I get to say ‘hi’ to all the trees and plants and animals! Remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to do this.

Also, regarding the “fear of success”: yes, this does exist and for a variety of reasons. Mostly it has to do with maintaining the success or the additional responsibilities that it will create.

2) Know who might sabotage your goal. Think about their motivations: What do they fear? Think how they might consciously or unconsciously undermine you. If you’re trying to lose weight, some friends will still encourage you to eat fatty foods or go out drinking all the time. Maybe they consider you an enabler that helps them overeat. Know that you can say ‘no’ in a nice way and stay focused and you might serve as an inspiration down the road.

Some friends might seem resentful of the changes. Let’s say you’re trying to make new friends or build your business. Long-standing friends might say “I never get a chance to see you anymore.” Find ways they can participate with you in your goal or momentarily side-step these issues without letting your energy dissipate. Consider investing less time with them if they aren’t supportive or if they are an energy vampire.

3) Assess what you might lose. Secondary gain is any reason why we would maintain a habit even though it’s not in our best interests. For instance, a smoker might say they smoke because it’s their only break, or that the cigarettes are their best friend. Another person might say they can’t work out because they have too many other responsibilities to do. Essentially, secondary gain is anything you will lose by making a change.

The first key in dealing with secondary gain is identifying it. Ask yourself, what do I stand to lose? And don’t just say, “weight” or “a cigarette habit”. Think about what you will miss about the habit or situation.

Then ask: Is there something more healthy that can replace this? Can I fill this need, want or desire in a more satisfying way? Then write that down as part of your game plan.

5) Check your calendar. Be aware of holidays, vacations, or work requirements that might sidetrack you. Perhaps you won’t be able to keep to your fitness plan in the same way, but you might find creative ways to keep fit while on the road. Or, you can acknowledge you’ll have less time during those periods and you’ll go into maintenance mode. Or, think of simple activities like house work or gardening as your opportunity to work out.

6) Don’t be militant. Although I try to be mostly caffeine-free, there is caffeine in certain teas (black, etc.) When I can make a choice, I chose the tea without. But, if there happens to be caffeine in a dessert, oh well. I just eat with moderation. Also, a friend told me recently that he’d been invited to an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. There is no way I would turn down that opportunity.

Another instance? I don’t own a microwave because 2.5 years ago, I decided I didn’t like the way microwave food tasted. Once in great rare while, I go to a coffee shop and they might microwave something. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m meeting my overall goal.

7) Do be militant. Don’t do things to please other people. If you really don’t feel hungry, you have a world of permission to not eat. But also be kind about expressing this. Ultimately, this is your life. So many people started smoking because of “friends” and peer pressure. And, yet, those friends are no longer in their life.

8) Anticipate course corrections. Inevitably, you might backslide, or not do perfectly. Let’s say, there’s the holidays and you ate more than you wanted to or you didn’t get to exercise as much. That is ok. There are always points of recovery. Also, consider this: In years past, might you have eaten more, or not worked out as much? It’s ok to take a break, to come back with more determination.

Sometimes there’s a backslide because you’re just checking. For instance, when I’ve eaten overly rich food, I quickly realize that I just don’t feel great with it and the fascination decreases. I’ve seen clients do that with cigarettes. They’ve stopped smoking, but try one to make sure they can still quit or that they don’t like the taste. No problem. If this happens to you, really understand why you regressed, be conscious of the negatives, and reacquaint yourself with the reasons why you want to continue. But be aware: several sequential backslides can become a whole mudslide.

7) Create an intervention plan. If the backslides are becoming too frequent or you would like to create faster progress, it might be worthwhile to get support. Once again, talk to buddies, read books, scan the internet for inspiration, or get professional help. Because I’m a hypnotherapist, I help clients identify self-sabotages and re-write their internal script or programming. These, or other activities could help you create and sustain your success.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these suggestions and tips for creating successful New Year’s Resolutions. And, for those of you who read this and think: No big deal. I already knew this. Then ask yourself: how well are you doing it? Are there things you would like to improve? The reality with knowledge is that knowing something doesn’t mean we do it.

For anyone achieving their goals, there are three steps in achieving mastery of information:

1) Learning

2) Understanding

3) Being

We may fluctuate between all these stages given the particular piece of information, but checking with ourselves on where we are at, helps keep us honest and our lives more authentic.

Here’s to a happy, rewarding and successful New Year!

Copyright © 2012 – Susan Just. All Rights Reserved.


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