How to Set Realistic New Year’s Resolutions and Goals

January 4, 2017

This is the time of year that seems to feel so incredibly stressful. As if the pressure of the holidays wasn’t enough, now there seems to be such high expectations on making New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s lose weight, start a diet, write a book, get in shape, end toxic relationships, give up sugar, or more travel, the beginning of the year turns most of us into over-planning, goal-driven people who put all of our energy into the cessation of whatever bad habit or lifestyle trait we’re trying to outrun.

I am no different than most people. I have spent years self-sabotaging with lists of goals intended to improve my person and leave me better-looking, smarter, healthier, and, you know, just overall better than I was at the beginning of the year. Like most people, I start the year with a list of to-do’s angled at a future self I know will just be happier than I am today. I imagine myself at the end of the year looking back with disdain on my New Year’s self from twelve months earlier, thinking I am soooo glad I’m this different person now. So happy THAT’S over with, I say as this projected December 31st self laughingly thinks about how far she’s come.

The hard part about all that is that the grit and determination lasts about a month, really. The goals become way too large, the direction seems unsure, and eventually House of Cards comes back on Netflix and I’m right back to the couch, waving goodbye at my December 31st self from underneath the comforter. Who does that smug such-and-such think she is, anyway?

This year, I’m trying something a little different. First of all, I no longer aspire to be some “fabulous” vision of myself at the end of the year. I’ve come to the realization that I’m pretty awesome already. Pretty much all of us are, whether we think we are or not. Life might not look like what you’d like it to right this minute, but we’re all where we’re supposed to be to take the next step, whatever that is. You couldn’t get to the next step without having taken the step that brought you here, so celebrate that. I couldn’t have gotten sober unless I’d hit bottom. I would never have sought therapy without the nervous breakdown. I wouldn’t have gone to the gym and started a fitness routine without all my clothes becoming too small. Everything works the way it’s supposed to work. Accept where you are right now first.

Second, instead of writing down a list of all the resolutions, I’m taking a more targeted approach. Life coach and spiritual guru Marie Forleo calls it the “Purge and Prune” process, and it requires you to get super focused about all the things you want to accomplish. It’s pretty awesome. She explains it in the video below:

Third, track your successes and failures with kindness and rewards. The mindset of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” is not the way to go. It doesn’t work for many of us. Instead, give yourself a reward for accomplishing the things you want. I have decided this is the year I’m going to complete a triathlon. I have never in my life done such a thing. But every week I hit my training goal, I get a small reward, like a manicure. Every month I hit my training goal, I get something bigger. If I miss a workout, I miss it, but I really like getting my nails done, so I’ll probably drag my butt to the gym. If I don’t, I start again the next day. I started training in December before the holidays, and I’m right on track for some awesome nails again this week. Rewards can be really simple and don’t need to cost a thing, like one afternoon of uninterrupted TV time or snuggle time with someone special. Get creative, but go easy on yourself and celebrate your accomplishments!

Finally, I have broken everything into tiny tasks. When I was trying to find a doctor or an apartment, the entire process seemed overwhelming. So, I broke it down into tasks that I could do, like calling a doctor’s office every day, or setting an apartment appointment every week. Eventually, everything got done because I made it smaller and more easily achievable. That’s also how I lost 75 lbs. Every week, I set a goal of eliminating one food from the “bad list” (high fructose corn syrup was first,) and walking 15 minutes a day five days a week. I added more time each week, and eventually started adding good foods in. It all balances out, but smaller tasks can take you to the big goal in no time!

This is the year of loving yourself unabashedly. Make the resolution to be kind to yourself this year, and to set goals that will bring your happiness. Happy New Year!