‘New Year’s Resolutions and How To Stick To Them’ by Jo Welsh

So it’s March already. Remember those New Year’s Resolutions you made way back in January? How are those going? This year you were definitely going to get fit, start saving, give up smoking, buy a bike, and so on. Problem is of course, you’ve said this every year… And have you done any of it? Honestly? Or, like most of us, have you had a vague intention to do these things, and then somehow it’s mid-October and you’re still no closer?

To be fair, you’ve probably already enthusiastically bought the bike in the January sales. And possibly the Lycra bib shorts too. You might even have given it a test ride in the local park. But, and be honest, is it at all likely your spanking new Carrera Hellcat will see the light of day again this year? Or is it more realistically going to end up in the shed, it’s lightweight alloy frame and Suntour XCM suspension fork gently rusting away alongside half full pots of magnolia emulsion, and last year’s slightly torn gazebo?

Yes, that’s what I thought. Well, read on, help is at hand…

Let’s have a look at what a resolution actually is. When you tell yourself you’re going to meet new people, lose weight, drink less, be more adventurous, travel the world, change jobs, or find love, what are you doing? In a very loose sense, you’re setting goals. And now we’re onto familiar territory, because we all know what makes a good goal, don’t we? That’s right, altogether now… we have to make it ‘SMART’. And just to recap (although I’m sure we don’t need to), SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-Framed.

So if we make our resolutions SMART, we’re more likely to stick to them? Well, yes. And you’ll see why as we go on.

Let’s look at each part of that in turn.

Specific: So you say you want to be more adventurous in 2017? How? In what way, specifically? Do you want to climb Everest, or simply go to more parties? You want to get fit? How fit? Do you want to be the next Mr Universe, or simply be able to run up the office stairs without going into cardiac arrest?

Vague goals produce vague results, so we have to nail it down and be specific. So ask yourself right now: what specifically do I want to achieve this year? If you want to be healthier, what aspects of your diet and/or lifestyle need an overhaul? If you want to meet new people, ask yourself what kind of people you want to meet and where you will find them. If you’re keen to get your finances under control, do you need to pay off your debts, open an ISA, or just spend less cash each month on extraneous tweed jackets and flat caps, because quite frankly that rustic country look is soooo last year.

It also helps to keep it positive. Focus on what you want, rather than what you don’t want. If you don’t want to be a push over anymore, focus on being more assertive and confident. If you don’t want to go out with any more two-timing narcissists, focus on finding a supportive, loving relationship. Want to lose weigh? Focus on how much you would like to weigh, or what size of clothing you would like to wear. By all means use the negatives as a starting point, and then turn them round into positive statements.

Ok fab. So you’ve got your list of specific, positive goals. You want to visit two countries you’ve never been to (Iceland and Mexico), take up a new hobby (fire breathing), ask Sylvia from HR out on a date, and run a half marathon for charity while dressed like Wonder Woman.

Now already these are moving away from airy-fairy resolutions and into the realms of achievable reality… So what’s the next step?

Measurable: Are your goals measurable? How will you know when you’ve achieved them? We should quantify the goal. We have to say how much. At this stage, we need to get our maths on. We want numbers, figures, measurements. How much would you like to weigh? How many new friends do you want in your life? What quantity of alcohol would be a more sensible weekly intake? How often would you like to embrace new experiences? What grade would you like to reach on the French Horn? What level would you like to smash in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare? What distance do you want to be able to competently roller-skate without falling over? How long do you need to balance your granny’s crockery on your chin to make it into the Guinness Book of Records?

So break out the slide rules, protractors, stopwatches, tape measures, and calculators, and set some measurable specifics to your goals.

And of course this brings us nicely to the next point.

Achievable: Make sure your goal is achievable for YOU! A stretch, yes. A challenge, ok. But it’s got to be something that you stand an outside chance of actually doing this year. Singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ to six thousand people in the Sydney Opera House may be a tad out of your scope if you can’t carry a tune. Think about it and don’t set yourself up to fail. Choose goals that challenge you, but that you can achieve.

If you’ve never run before, rather than saying you will run the marathon this year, you might like to start with running a half-marathon, or even a 5k. If you’ve nailed the 5k by June, then by all means set another goal for 10k and so on. Chunk it down into more manageable, bite-sized pieces. Find a starting point, or a first step towards the goal. You can build up to the biggies. It’s allowed! These are your goals.

Look at your skills, resources and time. Then decide what it might be possible for you to achieve. If you work a 45-hour week, have twelve kids and volunteer in a soup kitchen at weekends, it may be a tad ambitious to think you can circumnavigate the globe by April. However, you may well be able to pass your Basic Navigation and Seamanship qualification if you apply yourself to your study when the kids have gone to bed. You might then move onto to Dinghy Level 1, and have mastered the rudiments of staying afloat by July. By September you know your spinnakers from your topsails, and next year you’re booked onto a Multihull Sailing course. And you’re on your way!

By now, your goal should be specific, positively stated, measurable, and attainable. And now we want to make sure you’re excited about it. No, really.

Realistic & Relevant: So, first of all, are you actually going to do this thing? Is it your burning desire to get fit? We all know we should, of course, but what is going to motivate you? Is your desperate need to impress Brad, the hunky yet sensitive veterinary assistant at the local animal shelter, intense enough to drag you to the gym at 6am every morning? (Or are you going to give up after two weeks and just adopt another kitten instead?)

Find your motivation, and make it good! Remind yourself of all the benefits you will reap when you’ve achieved it. Get excited about this thing. And be committed to your goal. Make an intellectual decision to do it. Commitment will get you over any waning motivation. Motivation is a feeling – and those things are notorious for coming and going. Commitment is a decision.

Your goal should also be relevant to you. Are you doing it for yourself? If you get fit for Brad, but Brad doesn’t notice/care/already has a boyfriend/moves to Fiji, what happens then? Your goals are for you. No doubt others will benefit enormously from your recently acquired kazoo playing skills, or your adventurous culinary experiments, or your intention to be the first woman on Mars. That’s nice. But you’re doing this for you, to enhance your life, to grow. You have to care about it, or it’s unlikely to get off the ground. So dig up some passion, and ask yourself if these are things you want to achieve. Are they relevant to you?

Finally, make sure the goal is something that’s within your control. Sadly, we have no control over winning the lottery, or having a hot summer, or Brad falling in love with us. We also can’t control getting that promotion at work. We can work hard, we can ask the boss for a raise, and we can apply for promotion. But ultimately, it’s someone else’s call whether we get it or not. So make sure the goal is within your power to bring about.

Time-Framed: And, of course, there’s got to be a deadline. ‘One day, I’m going to see the Taj Mahal.’ Which day? Book it in. It’s time to tie down ‘one day’, and put it in the diary. You need to know by what date these things will happen, which is a very big and important part of being accountable. How can you assess if you’ve done it unless you have a date to have done it by?

You might already have dates in mind for your goals. You want to ask Sylvia from HR out in time for that Coldplay concert in June. You want to get fit enough to strut your funky stuff to at the Dad Dancing World Championships in Kingsbridge in September.

Setting a date ensures your accountability. So when we reach the 8th May, you can clearly assess whether or not you’ve managed to pluck up the courage to test-drive your self-penned country songs at the local open mic night. Or not. You’ll know whether you’re going to the Coldplay concert hand-in-hand with Sylvia, or at a rather more respectable distance from Colin, your last resort friend from chess club.

Setting deadlines also helps you plan your route to the goal. If you know you’ve got three months to train hard for the local pasty making competition, you can organize your time. Month one: perfect the gluten-free short crust pastry. Month two: experiment with chickpea lentil curry filling. Month three: presentation and the art of edge crimping.

So set dates. Set deadlines. (Remember, these are subject to review, and renegotiation. But chances are, if you have a deadline, you will do a good amount of the necessary work, even if you need to give yourself an extra couple of weeks to complete it.)

Ok, now let’s recap.

Original vague resolution: E.g. Learn to dance.

New Specific and positive goal: Join a local beginner’s salsa dance class on Thursday evenings at 6pm.

It’s Measurable: Go to class each week on Thursday evenings at 6pm.

It’s Achievable: I’m free on Thursday evenings. I can afford the very reasonable £5 a class. I’ve chosen a beginner’s class so I don’t worry about looking like a total tool.

It’s Realistic and Relevant: I love Strictly, and always wanted to learn to dance. It’s also a good way to keep fit (another resolution).

And it’s Time-framed: I will start classes this week.

Now apply the above to all of your New Year’s Resolutions:

(Resolution: To be healthier) I will be a non-smoker as of the 12th April following a hypnotherapy session.

(Resolution: To work for myself) I will convert my garage into a pottery studio by July, and be manufacturing charming, unique objets d’art by September, which I will sell through my online Etsy shop.

(Resolution: To give more to charity) I will buy 2 extra cans of dog food each time I go shopping to donate to local animal shelters.

(Resolution: To widen cultural horizons) I will visit the Amsterdam Cheese Museum on 2nd November.

(Resolution: To make new friends) I will offer my scenery painting skills to the local Am Dram Society in time for the summer production of A Nightmare on Elm Street – The Musical.

And so on. You get the idea.

Well done! You now have a SMART set of Resolutions that you can actually achieve! So get to it. Stretch yourself, accept the challenge, and enjoy!

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