New Years Resolutions are surely one of the most popular topics of conversation at this time of year. And why not? It’s a fantastic opportunity to make an advantageous change or adjustment in life – a reason to finally get around to doing that thing we’ve been meaning to do for a long time.
The catch is, however, that most of us fail. Around 88%, according to a National survey done in the UK a few years ago. That seems to me to be an astoundingly high failure rate. What’s more is that most people I talk to now seem to be almost expecting that they too will fail – there is an impression that succeeding is very unlikely, so while it’s worth giving it a bit of a go, we shouldn’t worry too much when it falls apart. This seems to me utterly daft, although I’ve fallen into the trap often myself.
Last year was a busy one for me. I started 2012 in China; six weeks into a seven month, 3000 mile walk across the country from the Gobi desert to the South China Sea (www.leonmccarron.com.) I completed the journey and was back in the UK by June, and in November I set off again to trek 1000 miles across the Empty Quarter desert in Oman, finishing just before Christmas. I was delighted to have had the chance to undertake two great expeditions, yet I still fell short on some of my other goals for the year. I had wanted to write my first book, but only got a few thousand words into it before I lost motivation. I also failed to keep up my pursuit of becoming fluent in Chinese So one of my New Year’s resolutions this year has been to keep up my New Years resolutions. For the purposes of transparency, here is what I have vowed to do in 2013:
1- Finish writing my first book by April
2- Practice Mandarin Chinese at least once a week
3- Plan and undertake one new adventure before 2014
4- Keep all of the above!
It occurred to me as I was writing these late in 2012, that it might be helpful to pinpoint some of the pitfalls that most New Years resolutions fall into. By avoiding some classic traps that leave us headed straight towards failure, perhaps we might all have a better chance of entering 2014 with our self imposed elements of self improvement intact. So my tips are:
1 – Avoid vague resolutions (such as ‘get more exercise,’ or ‘be more organised.’) It’s very hard to quantify how much more successful you are being with those. Try to stick to direct vows (Run ‘5km three times per week,’ or ‘Blitz my desk once a week” etc.)
2 – Make the goals realistic. ‘Write a bestselling novel in the next couple of weeks’ or ‘Look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’ are out of the question for most of us. Picking something incredibly unlikely is only building oneself up for a fall. Choose a target that you know you can reach, and them aim to go beyond it
3 - Find a pal to help you out– Take it upon yourselves to make the other person accountable for their resolutions, and encourage and motivate each other to keep them up
4 – Make a program – having a schedule can really help track progress, and give you smaller short-term goals to shoot for. I am trying to finish writing my first book, and have calculated that if I write 10,000 words a week, I should be able to have it done and edited by the end of April. It’s a big challenge for me, but it certainly helps to have a weekly and monthly target.
5 – Reward yourself! It worth remembering that, although these goals are made with the intention of bettering our lifestyle, productivity or attitude somehow, they won’t all be easy or fun. Make sure to put in some allowances for perhaps a slight pre-planned lapse in a fitness regime, or something else entirely (such as a long weekend away, or whatever it is you designate as luxury!)
6 – Don’t feel you have to start on January 1st! I personally think January 1st is a terrible time to start resolutions for the year. Half the population is hung over, and the other half is still in holiday mode, with sleeping and chocolate much more on their mind than lifestyle improvement.
I usually start my goals for the year on January 7th, when I go back to work. It’s much easier to integrate the resolutions into a regular routine. If you haven’t made any yet, then why not start next Monday?
7 – My final point is – don’t worry too much about breaking the promises to make. This does, I grant you, sound a little counterproductive! However, once we break a resolution or fail to keep it up for a couple of weeks, the natural reaction is to think we’ve failed, and give up on it for the year. A much better idea is to write that off as a small slipup, and restart it in earnest. In fact, I’m a big believer in doing the whole process twice a year – once in January, and once in June to see how I’m progressing and to remind myself what I wanted to change.
I wish you all great success with 2013, and I hope the year has started in the manner you hoped. If it hasn’t though, then how about dropping the ‘New Year’s’ prefix to the task, and just make some resolutions to achieve the changes you want? There’s no time like the present!