Mid-year is not really when most folks think about making resolutions, but it might be a really good time to review your last batch of New Year’s resolutions and see how you’re doing!
One problem with not being specific and systematic about resolutions is that in the times between this resolution and the next one, you are stuck in maintenance mode – trying to maintain whatever you accomplished last time until you are ready to do it again.
What is wrong with that, you might ask. Well, in the eternal words of my first martial arts teacher,
“There is no such thing as maintenance. You are always either getting better or you are getting worse.”
So you end up in this endless cycle of:
- Make a resolution
- Improve for a while until you get tired of the discipline or distracted from the routine.
- Slip out of resolution mode into maintenance mode (where we know “maintenance” really means “getting worse.”)
- Wait till next New Year’s because that’s a “good time” to make a resolution.
Here are some hints for breaking out of this endless go-nowhere cycle.
Make resolutions any old time
What is so special about New Year’s that you have to wait until then to decide that you are going to improve some aspect of your life?
You should make resolutions any old time and regularly review your progress with each resolution. When you determine that your progress is beginning to taper off and plateau, either figure out why and rededicate yourself to that resolution, or figure out what your next resolution is going to be and launch into that new resolution.
Don’t let yourself slip into that mythical “maintenance mode,” and don’t wait till the New Year to launch a new resolution.
Turn your resolutions into SMART goals
That is, make sure that each resolution is
- Specific – describe the new behavior as exactly as you can.
- Measurable – if you can’t measure it, you can’t control it and you can’t tell if you’ve achieved it or not.
- Attainable – It has to be achievable in the real world by real people (specifically YOU). Make sure your goal is attainable for YOU given your life and circumstances. But here’s a hint, “If one man has ever done it, then you can learn to do it.”
- Realistic – It has to be based in reality instead of fantasy. You want resolutions that will make a real difference in your real-world life.
- Time-bound – You have to know when to decide if you have succeeded or failed. You want to set yourself a deadline when you will Measure your progress in your Specific behaviors to see if you have or have not completed your goal. A deadline will help motivate you to action.
As an example, a common resolution might be to, “Lose some weight so I look better.” That resolution sucks. It is not SMART!
It is not specific or measurable and you don’t even know if it is attainable because you did not say how much weight you wanted to lose and you did not specify a time frame. Perhaps worst of all, it is based on the subjective fantasy of “looking better.” Better to whom?
“Lose some weight” is a recipe for disaster that is nearly guaranteed to slip you into the resolution-improvement-maintenance trap!
To make that resolution SMART you might change it to something like:
Starting at noon January 1st, I am going to lose 15 pounds before noon on March 15th by adhering to the DASH diet and treadmill running at 4mph for at least 45 minutes at least 4 times per week.
- Specific – 15 pounds, DASH diet, treadmill running
- Measurable – body weight is easily measurable
- Attainable – 15 pounds in 20 some-odd weeks is attainable for most folks
- Realistic – Science has shown that losing 10-15 pounds will help most overweight people to significantly reduce multiple risk factors. This is based in reality rather than the subjective fantasy of “looking better.”
- Time-bound – At noon on March 15, you can easily know if you have succeeded or not.
Lifestyle Changes instead of Resolutions
SMART goals work for a lot of people, but another way that you can avoid the dreaded resolution-improvement-maintenance trap is to make permanent lifestyle changes instead of stepwise goals.
It still helps to make them SMART even if you call them Lifestyle Changes instead of Resolutions or SMART goals. Basically, a lifestyle change is a SMART goal in which the Time-bound part is defined as, “Until I die.”
Maybe a good example would be “I will quit smoking.” This resolution sucks. It is not specific or attainable and we don’t know if it is measurable because it is not timebound. We don’t even know if it is realistic because YOU have obviously never quit smoking even if other people have.
What if you completely bypass all these conundrums (like this fellow did) by declaring, “I have become a non-smoker.”
- This is specific. “I am not a smoker”
- It is measurable. “I have not smoked.”
- It is attainable. People have succeeded this way before.
- Realistic. Reing a non-smoker has clear real-world benefits.
- And it is Time-bound. As long as “I am,” I will be a non-smoker until I die – because that’s just what I am.
A fantastic example of a man who used this Lifestyle Changes method of redefining or rebecoming is Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was prolific with his Resolutions, and he was so legendary in his lifestyle that I suppose he must have been successful with this method. With each of these resolutions, he is basically stating, “I have become a man that will behave in this way.”
Are you what you dreamed of growing up to be?
This question used to be common, though not so much anymore. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The question seems to have made more sense once upon a time than it does now. Whenever I ask my kids that nowadays, they either shrug or say, “older.”
But when I was a kid, I knew what I would be. I would be an explorer and a naturalist and a writer. I would have loved for it to have been on Mars or even a whole new star system but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon
But I can still be an explorer and a naturalist. In fact, I am an Explorer! I am a Naturalist! Here I am a Writer!
Are you now what you knew in your heart you were when you were a child?
If not, why can’t you be?
Why not declare, “I have become a _____________ again!”