Ahhhh, the second week in January. How we love to hate thee. The Christmas decorations have been taken down, the hangovers have cleared (except for that one still on the credit card), and we are getting back to the work and university grind. Those shiny new years resolutions are in the recycling bin, ready to be washed off and re-used in 360-something days. So why do so many resolutions and goals fail?
‘Lose 5kg and get a new job’
For almost a decade I celebrated Christmas or New Year’s Eve with the same group of lovely ladies. And almost every year we would ask each other what our resolutions or goals for the next year would be. The aims were variations on a constant theme, and soon became how we toasted each other at our end of year celebrations.
If we ever managed to do either of these things, it came more down to chance than strategy. And we still wanted to do the same again the following year!
Why resolutions fail
There are so many reasons – and each is as individual as the person who is setting the goals. When it comes down to it, most goals and resolutions fail because it’s the wrong ‘when’, ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’.
The time around New Year can be the worst time to set resolutions. The end of year and Christmas can be rubbish and stressful, even when you’re having fun. There’s no quiet time to yourself. You are surrounded by family and friends making their own resolutions and it’s easy to go ‘yeah, I’ll give that a try too…’.
Running away from pain
This leads me to the wrong ‘why’ – often our goals are avoidance based. We want to avoid embarrassment, loneliness or other pain, and this is true when we set our goals. We want to be thinner (avoiding embarrassment) or get a new job (avoiding painful situations at work).
The flip side to this is to make your goals ‘approach’ goals. It’s the difference between running away from something (old habits) and running towards something (new experiences).
Be specific, but no need to be perfect
Then comes the wrong ‘what’. Sooooo many of my clients come to me with a goal to ‘get my finances together this year’. Well, what does that mean? For some people that means getting out of credit card debt, for others it’s about starting to save. For others again, it’s to do an overview of their whole money situation, or gaining freedom from being financially controlled.
The ‘what’ is important. It needs to be specific, and it needs to be achievable. It doesn’t however, need to be perfect. It just needs to be ‘good enough’. Remember, a goal is only a goal. It’s not a marble statue. It can be tweaked and changed whenever you like.
If you can’t imagine the first, second and third steps of getting to your goal, you need to bring it down to something a bit more visible and immediate.
Find a goal that feeds your soul
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – people set resolutions and goals which don’t speak to their values and that’s why they fail. Changing your behaviour is challenging – and if you don’t find a good enough reason to keep going when it gets painful, you are going to stop trying. If deep down you want to travel and don’t like being bogged down – will you really want to go through the sacrifice of saving for a house deposit?
Don’t set goals at New Year
When you’re setting goals, give yourself some space and time to ask yourself ‘why is this important to me?’ – write it down. Then ask ‘and why is that important to me?’ – and keep on repeating this until you really feel something in you shift and you start to feel excited about the future. Then you might be on track to finding a goal and resolution that you can stick to.
And do it in February, seriously. Nothing else happens in February.
Special thanks to Ellie, Heide, Valentina and Meng who inspired this article.
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