This article continues the discussion on how to set achievable New Year’s resolutions. In my earlier post here, I tried to impress upon you why New Year’s resolutions matter, what goal setting means, and how to set SMART goals.
If you think I’m crazy for even attempting to make New Year’s resolutions because they are bound to fail, you are right. The statistics are overwhelmingly in your favor.
That said, I’m sticking to my resolution about making resolutions, because, over the years, I’ve figured a thing or two, (actually eight) that have helped me buck the universal trend of failed resolutions. So, here’s my ask of you today – park your skepticism for a bit, and hear me out.
Balance is key for achievable New Year's resolutions
I’ve quoted Patanjali’s Yoga sutra, 2:46 before about ‘Sthira- sukah-asanam’ which translates into ‘stable-comfortable-pose’. In many ways, this perfectly embodies how to set up achievable goals. The keyword here is balance.
Let’s look at the cover image for this story, a perfectly executed Natarajasana or dancer’s pose. If you’ve ever attempted this pose, you’ll notice the challenge of the pose increase as you add various elements to it.
Let’s say you are a beginner. Simply being able to stand on one leg for a few seconds is probably all you can muster. So, you practice that, finding strength and stability in the standing leg while the other leg dangles. Then, you start extending the dangling leg back. Now, your standing leg has to do more work.
You keep working to find balance in discomfort. Then something beautiful happens. Balance itself leads to comfort. Then you work on to the next phase of the pose - bending the leg to hover over your head. And so on.
Of course, it isn’t easy. But, with focus, concentration, and training, you make steady progress. It may take days, weeks, or even months. The key is finding your edge and balance, every step of the way.
The same concept applies to creating achievable New Year’s resolutions, which are nothing but personal growth goals. By definition, growth means going beyond where you are right now; it means to step outside your comfort zone. When you do that, you will encounter some instability. That’s why it’s important to know how to find your balance.
To create achievable new year's resolutions, learn to plan.
For successful growth, you need to have tools within your arsenal to keep you centered when you are unstable. Over time, with the help of these tools, you naturally expand your comfort zone. That is real growth.
No. You can’t purchase these tools at your local hardware store. Better still, you can make them yourself.
I enjoy stating the obvious. It makes me feel clever to say things everyone agrees on; never mind it’s all old news!
So, here’s my astute observation of the day: To create achievable new year's resolutions, it’s important to take time to plan them out. No kidding!
Pulling a resolution out of a proverbial New year Eve party’s hat, without any planning, will be about as successful as a magician trying to turn plain paper into money. All show and no dough!
So, where do we begin?
At the end of Part 1, I mentioned eight areas (or pillars) of your life that need to stay in equilibrium for a successful personal growth journey.
These areas are:
- Wellness: Health and Nutrition
- Lifestyle factors
- Hobbies and Leisure
To avoid sounding like a boring textbook, I’ll use an example to illustrate how these pillars work.
First, we start with an overarching resolution.
This is the common, catchy phrase that people usually refer to as New Year’s resolutions.
I’ll take one of the most cliched, common New Year’s resolutions across the globe. ‘Lose weight’. It was, is and will always remain popular.
This super-simple catch phrase is what I call an Overarching resolution. The end goal.
I’m going to use the ‘Lose weight’ example to illustrate the 8-pillar strategy. You can apply the same principle to any of your resolutions.
Before we get too far though, a quick revision on setting SMART goals.
If you paid any attention to the previous post , you’ll know ‘Lose weight’ is a bad resolution. ‘Reach goal weight of 140 lbs by December 3, 2023’ instead is a good overarching resolution because this goal is SMART:
- S: It is specific because you have identified your target weight. Denoting a specific number is always good instead of using relative terms such as ‘lose 12 lbs.’. What if you gained 25 lbs. by Aug 2023 and lose 12 lbs. by Dec 2023? Does that qualify as meeting your goal?
- M: It is Measurable. You just need to step on a scale to know whether you met the goal or not
- A: Hopefully, yes, it is Achievable.
- R: Relevant: If it’s on your mind to lose weight, I’m hoping it’s because you feel that is important to you. Relevance is subjective and situation-dependent.
- T: Timeframe. Yes, Dec 3, 2023, is a good date. I say so.
Now, let’s breakdown this overarching goal into true achievable New Year’s resolutions using the 8-pillar strategy. I want you to remember these are my examples. Feel free to substitute your own, especially if you vehemently disagree with my weight-loss strategy.
Wellness: Health and Nutrition
First, a bonus for you for reading this far. Yippeee!
Here’s the shortest diet book in the whole world. Absolutely free. Lucky you!
To lose weight, eat well, and exercise more.
That line is the beginning, middle and the end of the book.
Now, armed with this knowledge of what needs to be done to achieve the goal of ‘lose weight’, let’s create a series of SMART mini-goals.
Eat well can be translated into one or more of the following:
- Eat salads for lunch 4 times a week
- Restrict eating to between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm, 5 days a week
- Drink a green smoothie for breakfast every weekday
- Limit eating out to 2 meals a week
Exercise more can mean:
- Aerobic exercise for at least 45 minutes 4 x week
- Strength train for 20 minutes 3 x week
- Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator
That’s it. Break the ‘how’ into manageable steps.
Next, you need to be realistic about how your financial situation will accommodate your weight loss goal.
Eating well can happen in a few ways. You can go to the grocery store and get ingredients to make healthy salads yourself or you can drive up to the hippest juice/salad bar and buy great-looking but overpriced smoothies or salads. Or even better, you have the option to hire a personal chef or home delivery service.
You do you.
Based on your situation, refine the wellness goals identified above, into SMART goals with a financial focus.
- Limit eating out to 2 meals a week AND spend a maximum of $100 on dining out each week
- Eat salads 4 times a week, a green smoothie everyday AND spend a maximum of $800 on groceries a month
Now if you decide to make your own salads and not buy stuff, you need plans in place so you DON’T spend at the salad bar. Though the goals below don’t appear to be financial, they are triggered by the above financial constraints.
- Create a meal plan and shopping list on Saturday
- Go grocery shopping Saturday afternoon
- Spend 2 hours on Sunday prepping for weekday salads
Similarly, to meet your exercise goals you have choices: join a local boot camp, buy a Peloton bike and pay for classes, sign up at the gym with a personal trainer, or just run around your local track. Figure out which option best suits you and your purse strings.
Your restated goals may look like this:
- Hire a personal trainer for 2 sessions a month @ 50 a session or
- Sign up for streaming exercise class
- Run at the local track 4 x week
- Buy free weights for home use
In short, you refine or keep adding to your list, by answering when, what, and how questions.
The next pillar is work / professional commitments.
Do you have work timing constraints that will get in the way of your goals? Be cognizant of those. You may choose to refine some of the earlier goals here instead of adding new ones.
- Pack lunches every day to avoid hitting the cafeteria at work. You can simply refine the meal prep activity you defined above to directly prep into salad containers for each day of the week.
- Plan to hit the local track at 6 am, so as not to interfere with your work schedule
- Meet with your personal trainer on Saturday morning when you’re relatively free to make the most of paid sessions
Family & Relationships
Figure out how your goals will interfere with relationship and family commitments.
Going out to the gym when the rest of the family is eating dinner is usually not a great idea. So, make sure family time is accounted for. Again, add new goals or refine existing ones to ensure there are no conflicts with family time
The value of friendships cannot be overstated. But if you’re serious about your goals, you cannot expect to party till 2 am on Friday nights and show up for a hard workout with your trainer at 7 a.m. on Saturdays.
You have to set ground rules. No one will do it for you. If you designate Sunday morning for your long runs, you need to have an early night in on Saturdays. Every time.
Write this out as your goal so you know to block your calendar appropriately.
I’m hesitant to use the word spiritual here. I’m okay for you to rename it to whatever you like, but here’s the general idea:
Plan for setbacks. Not IF but WHEN. There WILL be days when nothing goes to plan or you’ll take two steps forward and ten back. When those times come, you need a fallback/support system to cushion the blow.
Plan for those now. These can make or break your resolutions.
- Consider a support group, either real or virtual. When you fall off the wagon, they can help you get back on it.
- Entrust friends or family who’ll help you stay the course
- Some goals are more emotionally nerve-wracking than others. Maybe faith can play a role in managing negative emotions.
The actual systems aren’t important, as long as you have at least one system in place.
Set up regular check-in sessions with your preferred choice of support systems. Pencil goals like these in:
- Attend support group meeting once a month
- Attend church or temple services weekly
These include factors such as when you sleep or wake up, whether you are always grumpy or happy. These all will impact whether you reach your goal.
If you have a busy life and a young family with lots of commitments, making time to exercise can be hard. In that case, make a commitment goal such as the one below
- Wake up at 5.30 am daily and go to bed by 10 pm.
A generic goal such as this will ease the path by building some discipline into your life.
Hobbies and leisure
Exercising for 30 mins followed by sitting on the couch, watching TV for 5 hours a day isn’t going to get you very far. So, watch out for these other areas in your life and see what needs to be fine-tuned. To get something, you need to give something up. Set some boundaries around your TV-watching habits.
- No weeknight TV watching, or
- Restrict weeknight TV to 30 mins a day.
That’s it. You’ve now worked through the eight pillars and are ready for the next step.
Creating a resolutions workplan
The steps above describe how you break your overarching goal into its component parts resulting in multiple concrete, actionable steps, or what I call the ‘Resolutions workplan’. In the process, you’ve also ensured your life is balanced. This is how you find stability in discomfort.
Let’s now break the example overarching goal ‘Reach goal weight of 140 lbs. by December 3, 2023’ into the resolutions workplan below. (Note: I’ve simply collated all the items from the above sections, removed duplicates, and refined, as needed).
- Eat salads for lunch 4 times a week
- Eat only between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm, 5 days a week
- Drink a green smoothie for breakfast every weekday
- Limit eating out to 2 meals a week; spend a maximum of $100 on eating out
- Run on the local track in the mornings at 6 am for at least 45 minutes 3 x week; long run on Sundays
- Strength train at home for 20 minutes 3 x week
- Create a meal plan and shopping list on Saturday
- Go grocery shopping Saturday afternoon; spend a maximum of $800 on groceries a month
- Spend 2 hours on Sunday packing weekday lunch salad boxes
- No partying after 9.30 pm on Saturdays
- Attend support group meetings once a month
- Restrict weeknight TV to 30 minutes a day
- Have dinner with family at least 5 days a week
It seems like a lot but every single one of the above items is simply a little pathway that leads to the main road – your overarching goal of losing weight.
Bonus: Healthy habits
In this process, though, you are also establishing some life long healthy habits that make other goals easier to achieve. For instance, if you wanted to tack on running a half marathon – you already have the groundwork in place. You may just need to tweak the amount of exercise instead of starting all over again.
Create your to-do list
The final step in planning for achievable new year's resolutions is to transfer the resolutions workplan into a calendar schedule.
For a weekly schedule, simply draw a grid with each calendar day in the columns. And pencil in when these activities need to occur. It cannot get simpler.
Here’s an example of what the above workplan would like on a schedule.
Similarly, create a monthly schedule for monthly activities such as attending support group meetings or check-ins.
That’s it. You now have a blueprint for the whole year. You have created very practical and acheivable New Year's resolutions.
Of course, the hard part is doing, I get it. But, if you are serious about achieving your resolutions, you NEED to make these tasks on the above schedule non-negotiable. Don’t add unnecessary items to crowd your schedule.
Other considerations for achievable New Year's resolutions
A few other considerations to keep in mind when you plan out your resolutions.
Do’s versus Don’ts
You could have resolutions that are do’s and those that are don’ts. For instance, no tv after 9 pm is a don’t goal. Read after 9 pm if a do goal.
While it’s okay to have a don’t goal as your objective, aim for more do goals.
Telling a child not to put dirt in her mouth or not to jump on or off the bed can get old fast. Okay, she doesn’t do those things, but then, unless directed, she’s going to find something else to do that could be equally annoying. Because she’s a child. They are intended to move and not sit still.
Unless you want to invent rules every day on what she should not do, emphasize what she can do instead. Instead of simply saying ‘don’t keep poking your fingers into the wall socket’, say ‘poke your fingers in this connect 4-in-a-row game’. Same action, dramatically different results.
Cut yourself slack
Schedule off days. Because they’re bound to happen, even if you don’t schedule them. It’s so much nicer to look forward to an off-day that’s scheduled than look back with remorse on an unproductive day.
Schedule review time
Set time out for monthly and quarterly reflections to measure and celebrate progress. Figure out what went well, what didn’t, and why? Make schedule adjustments accordingly.
If you’re a month in and you hate your life because the schedule is too regimented, redo this entire goal setting exercise. It’s your life and your goals. No pressure.
My examples above are aimed at intermediate or experienced goal setters. If you’re completely new to exercise, 45 minutes a day may be a tall ask. Cut everything down to size. Attempt to exercise for 4 minutes a day instead of 45.
There is only one thing that will get you from the start to the finish line and that is consistency. So, find something that works. Anything. It’s better to start conservatively and build as you go.
Of course, you can have more than one overarching goal for the year. But you have to do the 8-pillar exercise for every goal. This will help you easily spot any goal-conflict.
The Romans made January 1 the first day of the New Year, naming the month after the Roman God Janus – the God of beginnings and transitions. Other non-Anglo-Saxon cultures have their own calendars, with the year beginning on widely different dates.
The point is, January 1 is an arbitrary date. You don’t have to wait until January 1 to start making good, positive changes to your life. As the Hindi saying ‘Shubh kaam mein deri kyon’ goes ‘Why delay starting good (auspicious) work’?
Get started. Already. The world awaits your Version 2.0.