The fundamental problem with New Year’s resolutions is that we use the holidays as a period of reflection about what we want to change about ourselves, but we don’t take the time to plan effectively for how to actually achieve our goals. So, around New Year’s Day, we energize ourselves to be different in the year to come, but without a path to get there.
In physics, we know that energy without direction is heat. To accomplish a resolution, you need to have energy and direction. This means that you have to figure out the path before you burn all your energy and (once again) see no results.
The end of the year is a great time to reflect on where you are in your life. Thinking about what you haven’t yet accomplished, and what aspects of yourself you’d like to improve, are natural to do when one year ends and another begins.
The trick is to separate the decision to make a change from the day that you are actually putting yourself on the path to change. So take that resolution you made and give yourself the next eight weeks to figure out how you are going to achieve your goal.
What to do between now and March
Generate a plan for what needs to be changed and how you will fit new actions in your life. You might even start doing a few of those activities knowing that you might not succeed right off the bat. Behavior change is often two steps forward and one step back. Use these first few weeks to learn how to deal with the steps back so that they don’t derail your long-term success.
Pay attention to your existing habits. Try to become mindful about the many things you do mindlessly that may get in the way of your success.
Figure out the other obstacles that may be dragging you back toward your old behaviors. Are there people in your life who are not supporting your attempts to change? Are you making it too easy to do the wrong thing rather than the right one? Generate plans for how you will overcome those obstacles. Make changes to your environment if you need to.
Find some people in your world who can help you out. They might be friends who have similar goals. They might be mentors or even professionals (like trainers or coaches) who can help you on your way. Don’t expect that you have to do everything yourself.
Because it takes about eight weeks to work out the details of your behavior change, I think we need a new day of final commitment to resolutions. If you made a resolution, play around with it for the next two months.
Then, on March 4, make your final commitment to the plan. By taking the time to really work through the details of your behavior change, you give yourself a much better chance of being able to make a different resolution when you start looking back on this year.