Around this time, the expectation for you to set goals for the coming year is incredibly high. New Year’s resolutions have a long (and often frustrating) history.
Here is a list of the most popular resolutions made at the end of every calendar year. They’re also the ones that most often remain unfulfilled.
- Start working out
- Improve nutrition
- Save money and work down debt
- Lower stress
- Decrease alcohol consumption
- Quit smoking
- Spend more quality time with family
- Take up a new hobby or go back to school
These are valid goals, certainly. Any of them have the potential to better your life and the lives of those around you. If you’re a person who makes New Year’s resolutions, you’re probably a person who shares them with friends or family.
That’s your first step to making sure you don’t complete them.
Wait…sharing your goals is a bad idea? Up until recently, the advice has always been to share so people around you can help “keep you accountable.”
While this might work for relationships – especially helping you disconnect from toxic people or circumstances in your life – sharing life improvement goals has the opposite effect.
The Reality of Getting Things Done
In my life, I’ve heard the words “try,” “want,” and “wish” a lot.
When I decided to accept my first loss of employment as a blessing in disguise, I was careful to avoid such phrasing in my self-talk. I knew it was important to replace wishy-washy terminologies with power statements.
“I’m going to try to be a writer.” Not strong enough. “I’m going to write.”
“I wish I could figure out how to self-publish.” Forget that. “I’m learning this step today, this step tomorrow, and I’ll have a book published by this date.”
“I wish more people would read my books.” Too vague and weak. “I’ll build a website, establish a social media presence, and gain readers slowly.”
At first, I shared my dreams but I gradually stopped talking about them. I decided to spend my time doing rather than talking about doing. I shared results rather than plans for results. The more goals I attained, the hungrier I became to accomplish more and more.
“Do or do not. There is no try.” ~Yoda
I started noticing the “try” statements of others and realized they were defeating themselves without intending to do it. At the time, I didn’t know scientists were doing research to back up this habit that can go completely undetected for decades.
The Science of Self-Sabotage
In his TED Talk, Derek Sivers explained a century of research studying the phenomena of goal setting, goal sharing, and goal attainment.
Say you plan to lose weight or start a new business. You share those aspirations with the people you love, whose opinions you value or respect. Their response is likely (hopefully) to be positive, encouraging, and proud of your ideas.
The feeling you get from their feedback inspires a feeling of success in your brain. This psychological response causes a chemical reaction that mimics how you would feel if you’d already accomplished your goals.
Since your brain registers that you feel awesome about this whole goal-setting thing, it registers that you don’t really need to do anything else because you already feel so good.
There goes your motivation and focus to actually get it done. Your New Year’s resolution is over before you ever even start.
Change Your Perception, Change the Outcome of Your New Year’s Resolutions
Right now, you’re reading this article alone. As a natural introvert (extrovert by necessity), I process most truly critical information more fully when I’m by myself.
Portions of your brain love socialization and interaction with others. However, throughout history, many of humanity’s greatest accomplishments have happened during moments of quiet reflection. That’s where creativity lives, where big ideas come from, and how the mind stretches to places beyond your comfort zone.
For ten minutes, I’d like you to step firmly out of “group think.” No social media, no answering of emails, phone calls, or text messages. Isolate yourself in the bathroom, your car, the stairwell at your job, go for a walk…whatever it takes. If you’re a mom, a spouse, or live with others, it might have to be when everyone else is sleeping or while running an errand alone.
Disconnect by any means necessary.
During those ten short minutes, I’d like you to think about your life at this moment. Where you are, where you’d like to be, and what steps will be necessary to get you there.
You might have three steps or a hundred. Get the main ideas down in those minutes of privacy. Write them down or commit them to memory.
Don’t tell anyone as you begin doing gradual research on your idea, plan, or path.
Every day, take another five minutes to firm up the ideas and tasks in your mind. A daily five-minute commitment is nothing in the grand scheme of things and a time limit forces you to accomplish things quickly. Take stock of what you’ve done and what remains to be done.
When I first started writing, I did this daily. Despite being obsessive about my goals, I still had to raise my kids, clean my house, cook meals, and make money freelancing to pay my bills.
I admit my standards dropped drastically in some areas (my kids had never eaten so much “instant” food) but I was driven and I knew chasing my dreams would be the key to future happiness (and a return of my standards).
Here I am, five years later, and hitting my goals is second nature now. I don’t talk much about them but I share the results regularly. I get sidetracked and I forget what’s important sometimes. Now that my creative brain has freedom, it can be hard to focus on the boring aspects of daily life (which I refer to as “adulting”).
Whether or not you set New Year’s resolutions for yourself is a personal choice. I set goals all through the year (that have nothing to do with the calendar). I work toward them and meet them in every season.
If you choose to set some for yourself, don’t tell anyone. Work on them quietly, with full dedication (five minutes every day), and share the results when you reach the finish line (if there is one – sometimes, you’re never really done). When you have a tangible outcome, then you (and the people around you) can celebrate your success together.
Happy New Year…and happy accomplishing of whatever you set your mind to in 2016. You’ve got this (even when you don’t feel like you do). Self-doubt is part of the journey. Punch it in the gut and keep going.
Shayne McClendon is an author and positivity practitioner. Shayne believes love crosses all boundaries, social castes, races, genders, and belief systems. If you are lucky enough to find soul-deep love, you should fight for it. Life-certified, reader approved.