Ah, a new year, a fresh start. Well, start yes. Follow through, not so much. Statistics show that of the people who make New Year’s resolutions, about 65% abandon them after just one month. What’s even more remarkable is that the resolutions made have amazing consistency across groups of people and over time.
Here are five of the 2014 top ten New Year’s resolutions:
- Lose Weight.
- Getting Organized.
- Spend Less,
- Save More.
- Enjoy Life to the Fullest.
- Staying Fit and Healthy.
See what I mean about consistency? And if you look at the other five, you’ll find no surprises there either.
I don’t know about you, but I always find myself amused and amazed by this annual ritual. Why do so many people follow the same cycle of resolution, attempt, and failure? [Tweet this] And why do they tend to do this repeatedly, despite all the advice that’s available.
New Year’s Resolutions: Just Another Bad Habit
Now, I’m no expert, but having recently finished Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, I have a new insight. It seems to me that the whole resolution dance is itself a habit. A bad one. [Tweet this] It starts with a cue (New Year’s) that prompts a routine (set new goals) and ends in a reward (false sense of action).
Fortunately, you can change the habits that keep holding you back. And if you don’t have time to read Duhigg’s excellent book, he has posted a helpful book excerpt on the process at his site. It’s a great place to start.
Specific Is Better
Perhaps the biggest problem with resolutions, and even with the goals people typically set, is their lack of specificity. So, how to change that? I’ll bet you already know. SMART objectives. Because these are focused on time,action, and results, they allow for ongoing evaluation of progress and refinement of actions.
Specificity is powerful. And it’s pretty easy to create SMART objectives in place of New Year’s resolutions. [Tweet this] Then, if you make a genuine effort to take the needed actions and measure your progress, you’ll most likely reach your objective. So, for example, better to shoot for “dropping 10 pounds in six weeks by reducing calories from carbs” than it is to lose weight by “eating less.” And yes, people do set these very general goals! An actual goal I read, recently, was this one: “To do the hard work to get the kind of body society regards as beautiful.”
SMART objectives help. Yet, even though I use them, I often find myself thinking that there is a kind of fallacy in the way we think about goals. In fact, on some level, I continually find myself drawn to no goals as a better option. Frankly, the way Leo Babauta talks about it, a no goals life seems so attractive! He says:
“In the end, I usually end up achieving more than if I had goals, because I’m always doing something I’m excited about. But whether I achieve or not isn’t the point at all: all that matters is that I’m doing what I love, always.”
Therein, I think, lies the secret.
In reimagining success, I think goals have a place, but it’s a bit different from what you might expect. Generally, a goal is chosen because it represents some desirable future state of being. Usually something intangible. So, no, getting a new MacBook Pro really isn’t a goal. But being more physically fit is.
Once set, a goal usually unpacks into a series of activities we feel obligated to take in order to reach our goal. Want to lose weight? Fine. Just make whatever sacrifices the latest fad diet requires. You may not enjoy it, but you’ll see results. Maybe so, but then what?
So, in the typical approach, your goal establishes a set of rules for living that you feel obligated to follow to achieve that future state. Yet, as I see it, make yourself a servant to a set of rules, and you risk losing sight of what really matters. [Tweet this] What really matters? Living your life in a way that’s meaningful, fulfilling, and grounded in your own sense of purpose.
So, how do you do that?
Let’s start by reframing what a goal represents. Basically, your goal starts your journey toward a desirable future. As such, it means you need to follow a series of steps, or a path, to “get there.” Yet, when it comes to journeys, it’s worth remembering the wisdom of a well-worn aphorism: All roads lead to Rome. So, when it comes to goals, it’s not so much the destination. It’s the journey that matters most. [Tweet this]
So, if you want to lose weight, find a way of eating that you enjoy, happens to help you shed pounds, and becomes the basis for a long-term eating plan. Doesn’t matter if it’s Weight Watchers, Vegetarianism, South Beach, Paleo, or Smoothies!
If you want to increase your level of fitness, pick a fitness regimen that works for you over the long term. Whether it’s running, lifting, competitive sports, CrossFit, or Zumba. Do it because you enjoy it, and the results will often take care of themselves.
The really cool thing about this approach is that you are establishing desirable changes for today. And after all, isn’t that what it takes to live the life you want? So, when you set goals; ask yourself, “How does this create a better way to live my life, starting now?” [Tweet this]
What goals are you setting, and how do they change how you live today? I’d love to know. Just leave a comment.