By Noreen Keesey
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”
There are a lot of good things about January. It’s the start of a new year. It’s fresh. A new beginning, and a popular time to resolve to make changes in our lives. We will eat better, exercise more, lose weight, and be more productive. We make plans and give it a solid effort. We join the gym, Google healthy recipes, and think about all the things we’ll do to make our dreams reality.
And now it is February, and 92 percent of us gave up on our resolutions weeks ago. The year isn’t as fresh, and we are likely to be disappointed in ourselves for not following through. Our internal critic gets vocal, and we go back to our normal routine. At least until next year when we try again.
My father told me about the resolution he made years ago that was the only resolution he has kept. He resolved to never again make resolutions. I think that perhaps the greatest brilliance in his approach is that he figured out what works for him and stuck with it. We are all very different, with varying strengths and talents, so one bit of advice is unlikely to work for everyone. It’s to our benefit if we stop berating ourselves for our continued failings, and figure out what works with our own particular quirks and habits.
Before considering ideas to increase your chances of success, or at least quiet that inner critic, let us take a minute to bring some clarity to the topic of resolutions. Specifically, how they differ from goals.
A resolution is a decision; a firmness of purpose. It is a commitment to an action or method. Eating a healthy diet, committing to regular exercise, and meditating daily are examples of resolutions.
A goal differs in that it has a defined outcome or end, such as losing 25 pounds by the end of the year or running a marathon before the snow flies again. We may have to incorporate daily action in order to accomplish the goal, but it has a clearly defined end date and timeline.
Many people use the terms goal and resolution interchangeably, but it can be helpful to understand the difference and how they can work together to support your success.
A critical component to the success of your resolution or goal is to be sure that it is important to you. As difficult as change is, your desire for the new reality must be clear and desirable to you. This deserves some extra attention; if your outcome is important in theory or important to someone else, it will be difficult to attain as you may not have the motivation needed to make the necessary changes to your daily routine. When considering your commitment or outcome, take the time to outline exactly why it is meaningful and important that you succeed. What does the goal support in your life? How will it improve your relationships, health, work, or well-being? Why do you care about it? Incorporate the answers into your resolution or goal.
Now that your motivation is clearly defined, find a way to keep it within your awareness. Our habits run a large portion of our day, and if we fail to maintain attention on the new behaviors we are working to incorporate, the days can slip by and we lose momentum. Pull out a sticky pad and jot down notes to leave around your living space, write your reason in your planner each week to help you schedule the actions you will take, or enter a digital reminder on your phone to pop up at regular intervals to help you remember your “why.” Perhaps do all three.
The last recommendation I’ll make is to stop trying be perfect. If you have broken the resolution you made on New Year’s Eve or failed to implement any action toward your goal, just begin again. Remind yourself of your motivation and take advantage of the new day that is to come with another chance for a fresh start. Give yourself permission to start small. If you don’t have time or energy for a two mile run, then take a 10-minute walk and congratulate yourself for doing something rather than being frustrated that it wasn’t enough. Allow yourself time to incorporate your new habits with small, consistent steps in the right direction.
Celebrate the small successes along the way, forgive the missteps, and use them as learning opportunities. What can you adjust in order to prevent its recurrence? It may take a good deal of trial, effort, and support, but identify what you really want, figure out what works for you, eliminate what doesn’t, and stick with it.
Noreen is a leadership coach and trainer who believes deeply in the Army leadership principle “Know yourself and seek self-improvement.” She enjoys reading, watching movies, and laughing with friends over a good cocktail. She is uncomfortable with small talk and is scared of moths but she has welcomed her daughter’s pet guinea pig, Moony, into the family.