An easy way to make effective resolutions

New Year's resolutions are serious commitments to start or stop doing something — particularly things that help or hinder your personal growth and progress. Here's how to make realistic resolutions that are attainable.

Though I appreciate the benefits of New Year’s resolutions I personally don’t make them. Instead, each quarter I review the core values and personal growth goals I set years ago and evaluate my progress. 

The new year for me is simply one of several times throughout the year where I refresh my dedication to my life vision and make any necessary adjustments to stay on track. To me this is more consistent and efficient than making disjointed resolutions that don’t connect to a higher purpose.

More importantly, it ensures I live a purposeful life: not one comprised of one-off goals that I may or may not achieve, but a life based on values that give me enduring happiness regardless of outcomes. 

That said, I recognize that goal-setting at the top of the new year is alluring because it has deep roots. Making New Year’s resolutions can be dated back to the traditions of Western religions. From the ancient Romans to modern Christians, people have been making annual promises or sacrifices to their deities for thousands of years in hopes of being blessed with favor and prosperity.

Nowadays, regardless of creed, resolutions are seen as a personal development tool that allows you to live with intention for the 12 months that follow. Yet, most people forget about or abandon their resolutions before they even really get started. In fact, according to a study mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, almost 90% of resolution setters fail.

That’s because they set resolutions that are vague (I need to lose weight), absent of a plan (I want a better job), or not in their power to control (I’m going to fall in love). You also have those who fail because they set too many goals (I’m changing everything about my life).

So if you do decide to follow the tradition, before you fall into the same trap of making empty resolutions that are impossible to achieve, here’s a simple and more effective approach that will set you up for success this year. 

Develop a soul-searching strategy

A soul-searching strategy is a comprehensive process designed to help you develop your personal values and life vision. Knowing what you care most about and being purposeful in your pursuits is the best way to obtain enduring happiness.

To be happy you must manage your external environment and internal outlook in ways that positively influence your sense of self and contribute to your ability to thrive. A soul-searching strategy provides a roadmap for accomplishing this.

Without this overarching roadmap it is difficult to live intentionally and feel content. You are more likely to flounder in life by half-heartedly running after random goals that are disconnected from your personal needs and desires.

Before making any yearly resolutions, your first step should be investing the time in finding yourself— understanding what increases your feelings of self worth and learning how to make decisions accordingly. 

Map the resolutions to your life vision

After going through a soul-searching process, you’ll have crafted a clear purpose and you’ll understand how each area of your life (from health and relationships to career and finances) contributes to this vision.

When making your annual resolutions you want to be cognizant of whether they’ll improve or detract from your ability to pursue your vision. The best way to do this is to use the wheel of life.

The wheel of life is a tactical self improvement tool that helps you regularly evaluate your core life themes and determine if one or more needs attention, particularly if they disproportionately hinder your progress.

No matter if your New Year's resolution is to lose 10 pounds or launch a small business, you should always link it to a specific theme and understand how that theme contributes to your purpose.

Assess how realistic your resolutions are 

Once you create your wheel of life and set resolutions for one or more themes, it’s time to assess how realistic they are and make any necessary adjustments. There are three important questions you should ask when analyzing each of your resolutions.

1.  Is it within your power to control?

Harboring unrealistic expectations is a sure way to feel unhappy and disappointed in life, according to Psychology Today.  So it’s important to craft resolutions that are practical.

For instance if you are a single man or woman, setting a goal to fall in love this year will do nothing but set you up for failure. That’s because this is an example of a resolution that, although it could happen, is completely outside of the realm of what you have the power to control.

Instead, fully acknowledge your desire to fall in love then make a resolution to go out on more dates each month (and put a plan in place for making that happen such as setting up a profile on an online dating app) to increase the likelihood that you’ll meet a viable partner.

In other words you have the right to harbor lofty desires but your resolutions should be the measurable, incremental tactics that empower you to do something about it.

As Harvard Business School psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses “the biggest mistake a lot of people make in setting goals for themselves is that they focus only on the outcome, not the process.”

2.  Is there a clear path to accomplishing it?

Speaking of process, once you establish a clear and realistic resolution you need a system in place for accomplishing it. Some may even argue that systems are more important than goals themselves, as Scott Adams, serial entrepreneur and creator of the Dilbert comics, reports.

A system is a routine. It’s what you must do on a consistent basis to reach a particular outcome. And even if you don’t achieve the goal (or resolution) you’ve set, the system is designed so that you still win by committing to the process.

For example, one of my goals is to continue building ventures that help people develop themselves. My system is the daily routine I’ve put in place so that I consistently generate high-quality and useful ideas and insights for my audience.

Even if I don’t reach the exact milestones I’ve set for my ventures, sticking to my routine still enables me to make a solid living by positively impact the lives of thousands of people. So, when setting your resolutions make sure you’re able to implement a system that supports it.

3.  Will you enjoy working on this?

According to Harvard Business Review, what separates goals we achieve from goals we don’t is enjoyment and immediate benefit:

Setting a goal is the first step toward achieving the delayed outcomes you want. Yet, forgoing immediate outcomes or daily pleasures can undermine these goals. By making the experience more rewarding in the moment, you’ll have a better chance at success. — Harvard Business Review

Many of your resolutions are likely to be things you must continually work on for future gain. That means the gratification you expect to garner from accomplishing them will be delayed.

However, as this Harvard study states, it’s hard to follow through on long-term goals when you don’t enjoy the process — no matter how important they may be to you.

To increase persistence you must seek and see the positive benefits that you can garner immediately. Associating pleasant moments and enjoyable experiences with your resolutions will improve the likelihood of you obtaining them.

For more support with streamlining your resolutions and goals, read our book series, explore the coaching program or join the community forum.

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