According to History.com, “people have been pledging to change their ways in the new year…for an estimated 4,000 years now.” The tradition began as a promise to pay back debts or return borrowed items from the previous year, gaining favor and reward from the gods. In modern times, we think of it as a time for self-improvement, and the three most oft expressed New Year’s resolutions are to exercise more, eat more healthfully, and to lose weight.*
These are, of course, things we could do for ourselves at any time. So, what is it about the beginning of a new calendar year that makes people want to embark upon the challenge of personal improvement?
Marking the passage of time is important for understanding what it means to be human, and for creating meaning for our lives. Birthdays, holidays, and the oncoming New Year are ways in which humans mark this passage, bringing thoughts about how far we’ve come – or how far we must go – in order to reach our goals. The actual change of the date that happens at the new year provides a tangible moment in time providing a solid backdrop for personal change.
Why not now?
The problem with New Year’s resolutions is they rarely stick. We often set unrealistic goals. Actual change takes more than a promise on a specific date marking the passing of time to accomplish.
I once vowed I would exercise ½ hour every day of the week. I did great on Sunday, managed to squeak out my ½ hour on Monday, and then didn’t work out at all on Tuesday – and that was it. I had already failed so why bother exercising the remaining days in the week?
So what can I do?
The trick to making resolutions stick is to take small, achievable steps toward your final goal. I’ll use my example of exercising to illustrate what I mean. I set a final goal of exercing 30 minutes every day and then did the following:
- Make it easy. The first step to exercise is putting on the proper clothing. I started by changing from my pajamas into my exercise garb every morning before I ate my breakfast. Did I exercise? Well, not at first. But I thought about it! And then, a couple days in, my motivation kicked in and I was ready!
- Frequency & Duration. Rather than every day, I backed off my frequency to three times per week. And rather than ½ hour, I decided to start with a duration of 10 minutes each workout. I can do anything for 10 minutes (in theory), and if I missed Tuesday, or even Wednesday, I still had Thursday through Saturday to catch up!
- Build Slow & Reward Yourself. Once I got myself started, I felt more motivated to continue. It was a slow build and starting small allowed small wins – which I celebrated with small rewards for sticking to my plan! (A piece of chocolate, perhaps?)
- Stay committed. The more I stuck to my plan of just 10 minutes of exercise three times per week, the more frequently and the longer I exercised, building greater motivation and commitment.
When considering this year’s New year’s resolution, think about your final goal, and break down the process of getting there into small steps. For each small win, you’re one step closer to that final achievement.
Have a goal that doesn’t fit into this easy plan? Leave a comment and I can help you work it out!