Set an Intention Instead of a Resolution
Resolutions are frustrating because they’re an “all or nothing” approach to accomplishing goals. But making positive changes in your life isn’t about the end result, it’s about the process. That’s why Jessica Estrada at Apartment Therapy is choosing to prioritize intentions over resolutions.
Intentions are about the present moment, not the shapeless, unknowable future. You stay focused on the how instead of on the pass or fail results. For example, if you want to lose weight, don’t set a goal like “lose 10 pounds.” Make your intention to be more active, or be more mindful of your nutrition. Each day you can ask yourself “How can I be more active than usual today?” Or “How can I eat healthier than I usually do today?” The change you’re after will follow. Plus, you’ll feel a lot less like a failure because you get a fresh start every day, and if you ever slip up or fall behind, you have the opportunity to forgive yourself and start new in the morning.
Choose a Theme or “Focus Word” for the Year
If you want to be the change you seek, skip the quantifiable goals entirely and choose a theme or “focus word” for your year. For example, Miranda Marquit at MoneyNing is making her theme “growth.” She’s not looking for milestones, just asking herself “How can I grow in my life?” And actress Zoe Saldana is making her theme “open,” choosing to focus on being more open about her feelings to others.
Themes are helpful because you can’t really quantify or track abstract goals like “being a better mother,” or “being a kinder person.” Maybe your theme is something as simple as “kindness,” or maybe “understanding,” if you feel like you get angry at things too quickly. If you were surprised by the presidential election results, you can make this year the year of “perspectives,” and you can find a way to climb out of your echo chamber and begin to understand why things are the way they are. Take the word and print it out or write it down, then put it somewhere you can always see it. Maybe on your computer monitor, above your door, or on your bathroom mirror. It will serve as a memory peg, always reminding you what this year is all about.
Commit to Helping Someone Else
Changing for the better doesn’t have to be about you. In fact, the best way to change ourselves is often by doing things for others. Meghan Blalock at Who What Wear suggests you make a commitment to a person instead of creating a goal for yourself. Maybe you have a friend that’s seen better days, or a family member who’s struggling. Or perhaps it’s a good time to start volunteering at that nearby community center or soup kitchen.
Making a commitment to someone doesn’t have to be entirely selfless, though. If there’s something you want to achieve, May McCarthy, author of The Path to Wealth, suggests you spend time with someone who has already done that thing:
“This helps you practice the technique, see what life can be like if you achieve it, and raise your mental equivalent. When you see people being successful at your goal, it helps you think, ‘If they can do that, I can do that, too.’”
Make the new year about others and you might be surprised how far it will take you.
Highlight Last Year’s Accomplishments and Imagine the Highlights of The Upcoming Year
Perhaps you don’t feel the need to make any big changes in your life. That’s perfectly acceptable, especially if you’re already on the right track. Even so, it’s still helpful to use the new year as a landmark on your road to success. Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., suggests at Psychology Today that you should look back on your favorite memories and triumphs of the past year. Think about all of the times you overcame hardship, solved problems, and came out on top. And don’t forget to track your efforts too, and recognize how hard you worked. It will get you pumped for taking on challenges in the new year.
After you’ve done that, McGonigal recommends you sit down and make a list of five things you think will be highlights in your upcoming year. The events on your list can be as small as you like—fresh episodes of a favorite TV show, a trip, a new video game—just make sure they’re things you’re fairly certain will happen. Expecting a raise, for example, can be exciting, but you’ll be more disappointed if it doesn’t happen. So, don’t worry about lofty goals. Look back and realize how awesome you are, then think about how awesome things will be.
Make a Small Goal Just for January, Then for February, and so on…
If you absolutely must have a measurable, quantifiable goal of some kind, think of something simple. Take your resolution, break it into small, achievable parts, then toss the resolution in the trash and forget about it.
For example, one of my big goals right now is to learn Japanese, which is a massive undertaking. So I’ve broken it all down into approachable pieces. My only goal right now is to learn Hiragana, one of the Japanese alphabets, by the end of January. Then my next goal will be to learn Katakana by the end of February, then get into vocabulary in the spring, and so on. Eventually, the whole “learn Japanese” thing will happen. Maybe not by the end of this year, but that doesn’t matter when you’re making real, measurable progress toward your goals.