Beyond New Year’s Resolutions

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There is a really good reason why most new year’s resolutions don’t stick.  It can be difficult to take something seriously that you find vague, overwhelming, unrealistic or too difficult to put into practice.  Personally, I have never been someone who makes new year’s resolutions. I prefer to avoid the disappointment. You might think that shows a lack of faith in myself or an unwillingness to believe that anything is possible. You may have a point. However, I prefer to take a different approach in deciding what I would like to accomplish in a specific time frame. You guessed it. I prefer to set goals.

Generally, when people are setting their resolutions, they see themselves as drawing a line in the sand, stepping across it and never looking back.  That seems like a really good idea but unfortunately that’s not how the human mind works. That’s not how we make change and that is not how we get things done.

The way that most resolutions are expressed makes for a really good vision. As great as that sounds, that is also part of the reason why they are so hard to stick to. When you decide that you want to stop doing something that you have done repeatedly for years or you decide that you want to start doing something that you have always wanted to do, that’s your vision or dream. Most visions and dreams make really good starting points but are not good at providing enduring motivation for creating massive change. While it is true that just having a vision puts you ahead of all those people who aren’t even thinking about change, to really make it happen requires specific steps, plans and actions.

Where the derailment happens between the vision of the resolution and the reality, is when the individual needs to  start taking action on a daily basis to make the dream a reality. At the outset, we generally start with a lot of energy, determination and willpower. We feel motivated because it’s exciting and new.  However, many of us eventually run out of steam and give up.  This happens because using willpower is not an enduring way to create change. It takes too much energy. It is not sustainable. Instead, you have to put practices and systems in place to set yourself up for success. To do this you want to create habits, structures and disciplines.

For example, if you want to exercise every day, identify the least stressful way that you can do that. In other words what habit can you put in place that is going to make it easy for you to make that choice. Are you going to keep your work out clothes nearby, laid out for you to get up and put them on automatically? Many people who do this report greater success with their ability to consistently exercise in the mornings, right after they wake up.  It works because it doesn’t require your brain to make another decision.

You want to decide what will work best for you. Are you the kind of person who has to respond to work demands early in the morning? Are there family commitments that would stop you for using your time the way that you would prefer? Then identify the time that is going to work best for you.  I once had a participant in one of my classes beating herself up because she couldn’t get to the gym everyday to exercise the way that she wanted. She has two small children who need her attention after work and in the morning .

However, while she could not get to the gym everyday, she was making time, out of sheer desperation, to walk many evenings and play with her kids, around her neighbourhood. To help her move forward I asked her to be specific about what she wanted to achieve, whether it was going to the gym daily or exercising daily. It was important for her to realise that they did not necessarily mean one and the same thing in her world.  She might not be able to go to the gym because of competing priorities but she could still find time to go walking or running around her neighbourhood.

My questions worked for her because they enabled her to break the mental link she had between going to the gym and exercising. That allowed her to then think of other creative ways that she could use to get her daily exercise goal into her schedule. Many of us may have situations like that. We want to eat more healthfully, so we associate that with depriving ourselves of every thing we ever enjoyed eating. If that works for you, fine. However my concern is for the person who gets derailed by this all or nothing approach.

Sometimes, it helps to look at the goal in a different light and realise what it is that we are trying to achieve. If you want to eat more vegetables, then start there. Don’t think about having to stop eating anything. Don’t think about the television programmes you may be missing by going to the gym or going to bed early. Focus instead on the time that you want to go to bed or on the task of getting to the gym or completing the exercise workout. Thinking about what we cannot do or what we are sacrificing makes it more difficult for us to keep pursuing the resolution we have identified.

One of my major health goals this year is to incorporate more vegetables and fruits into my diet while reducing the sugar and processed foods. To help myself along the way, I started loading my refrigerator up with leafy greens and fruits. I stopped buying sweet treats. I am trying to set myself up for success by making it easier for me to choose what I want more of in my life. If I have to consistently make the decision every day about whether I should eat cookies or fruit, it increases the likelihood one day that I will make a choice that does not serve my goal.

You can do the same thing. Be clear about what you want to achieve. Set up some systems that are going to make it easy for you to achieve it on a daily basis. Start small, get some consistency and keep going.


Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach who works with individuals and organizations to help them improve their performance.  She is based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.  For more of her writing visit

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