To Make (Or Not to Make) New Year’s Resolutions

It’s nearly the New Year, which means many of us are deciding what our resolutions should be. Whether you want to earn a promotion, lose weight, or pay off credit card debt, resolutions can feel like making a clear step toward success.

But do resolutions really work? Have they worked for you in years gone by? And if they don’t work for you, why not? Is there any way to get yourself over the hurdle of setting up new habits and routines so that you can reach your goals?

While motivational gurus repeat the mantras of “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely (SMART) goals,” that’s not to say that there aren’t other paths to success that might be better for different types of people.

After all, repeatedly failing to reach goals perpetuates a negative cycle of feeling shame and inadequacy. If your concrete, realistic goals feel out of reach, you aren’t likely to feel empowered to begin to dream big for your long-term life goals.

How is it possible that we feel motivated at the beginning of the year, and we can clearly envision success, but we tend to lose all clarity and progress before spring?

Whether you’re losing weight to please other people and conform to external beauty standards or paying off debt to escape mounting interest fees, you’re probably not setting goals that revolve around your own experience of your life.

This year, try setting goals for the New Year that help you get what you want out of life.

If you want to make real changes in your life, you’ll first have to take a compassionate yet honest look at your current situation. Setting aside societal expectations and the script you’ve been handed for your life, what do you really want when you are just being yourself?

Because here’s the truth: no matter how carefully you plan to reach your goals, if they’re not aligned with your true desires, you are almost sure to be wasting your efforts.

Instead, perhaps January should be your time to step back and reflect. Meditate. Breathe deeply and slowly. Begin to embrace yourself, flaws and all.

If your self-reflection always turns to negativity, sadness, hopelessness, or just emptiness, reach out to a mental health professional FIRST, before you set new goals.

Addressing any underlying conditions will be the best step you can take toward creating a brighter future for yourself.

The reality is that there is always room for improvement in each of our lives, and to that end, setting goals is positive and necessary. However, if your best efforts leave you short of your goals and feeling unfulfilled, you may be living life for other people instead of living as your authentic self.

As we step into the New Year, let’s shake off the baggage that’s piled on from “failures” past.

This year, we chase joy. We nourish our minds and our souls. We get out of bed to pursue the life we actually want to be living.

After reflecting on your life, accepting yourself as wonderful (flawed though you are), and embracing hope for your future, you may decide that your life would be improved by setting healthy goals for the New Year.

First, decide that you will not punish, shame, or criticize yourself when you inevitably veer off course in pursuit of your goal. Progress doesn’t move along a straight line. Instead, it meanders organically over the ever-shifting landscape of our lives.

Change requires that you realign your choices with your goals periodically without taking yourself to task for having gotten side-tracked.

Setting up new habits takes a long while. You’re not paving a road to your future success; you’re gradually wearing a path by treading it patiently day after day.

Let’s take a common goal and figure out how to reach it in a way that supports long-term success: weight loss.

While it’s common to say things like, “I’m going to lose twenty pounds by June,” this goal—while being healthy, reasonable, and concrete—doesn’t have the mechanism for success built into the goal.

Instead, this requires self-reflection first. Where did the weight gain come from? Was there a change in eating habits? Movement patterns? Hormonal changes or new medications added? Each of these underlying issues should be addressed in a slightly different way.

Ultimately though, there are changes that would benefit almost every person: increase movement, eat more vegetables, and incorporate more lean proteins.

In order to begin to create the types of habits that will lead to success, it’s important that you be honest with yourself about what you’re really willing to do.

You may not ever be the type of person who wakes up at five to hit the gym for an hour each day, but could you be the type of person who enjoys a shorter, yet brisk walk at lunch and after dinner?

Maybe you’re not going to eat salad instead of sandwiches at lunch, but could you commit to adding more veggies to your sandwich and ditching a source or two of fats? Would you be willing choose Greek yogurt with berries at night instead of reaching for ice cream?

Even if you only make these changes three days a week at first, having small successes will begin to shift your mindset about your own capabilities.

Remember to let your first change feel completely normal before introducing another change.

While it may seem tempting to jump headfirst into a new lifestyle, studies have shown that long-term success hinges on gradual, gentle changes.

If you’re still stressed about getting a walk in daily, for example, this isn’t the time to also expect yourself to skip your morning mocha. Once your walking time is second nature for you, then you can choose another habit to adjust or add to your routine.

Remember: only make resolutions that move your life closer to your ultimate hopes and dreams for yourself. Anything else isn’t worthy of your time and dedication.

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