How to Extend the Life of New Year’s Resolutions
It’s estimated that 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year—and just 8% of them keep those resolutions. If you’re newly sober in December–January (or at any other time of year), chances are you have goals for a successful future. You may also have doubts about your chances of achieving them.
Actually, a little self-doubt is good for you: cocky people are less likely to see what’s really needed, less likely to recognize when their approaches need modifying—and more likely to blame everyone else when things go wrong. (How long did you stay stuck in addiction because of rationalizing “I could give up drinking easily if my kids/job/society didn’t keep driving me back to it”?) But if you approach resolutions with the secret thought, “I’ll probably fail like I always do,” the idea that it’s no real use will destroy any motivation to keep on once the going gets tough.
For most people, turn-of-the-year cultural enthusiasm is motivation enough to make resolutions and stick to them—for a few weeks. It’s after the first half of January, when the resolutions are no longer new, that “resolvers” are separated into the quitters and those who eventually succeed.
Here are some ways to improve your chances of achieving membership in the latter group:
PUT YOUR RESOLUTIONS INTO TANGIBLE FORM
People who write down their goals are 42% more likely to achieve them. People who make vision boards also enjoy significantly increased success. By putting resolutions into tangible form, you make them more real and thus more achievable. And you’re less likely to forget them among the keeping-up duties of life.
There are a few caveats, though:
- Describe specific desired results. “Lose 40 pounds by October” is more effective than “lose weight” because the former gives a clear success point to aim for.
- Put your goals where you’ll see them every day—and move them every month or two to prevent “familiarity blindness.”
- If you set truly audacious goals (write a bestselling novel, achieve 20 patents, build your own space vehicle), know the steps you’ll require to get there, and write those down as additional goals.
- If you’re only 75% of the way to your goal when the originally designated time is up, that’s 75% better than nowhere: rather than berate yourself for “failing,” pat yourself on the back and keep going.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR GOALS
One popular business consultant gives out “How Bad Do I Want It?” display cards to remind her clients that success requires perseverance and passion. If you genuinely believe you have a worthwhile goal for you, you can find a way past any obstacle. If you think of it merely as something that would be nice to have, you’ll find endless excuses to label it “impossible” or “when I get around to it.”
If you’ve been a chronic self-doubter or living in fear of “what people think,” talk to your counselor and support partners about developing techniques for believing in what you were made for. And when someone pays you a compliment, say “Thank you” with appreciation, rather than discounting it! (It’s strange how many of us think that our critics know better than we do, but we know better than our admirers!)
GET ACCOUNTABILITY AND SUPPORT
Of course, surrounding yourself exclusively with critics or admirers is as bad as keeping your goals a secret. Pick your most optimistic and loyal acquaintances to share your resolutions with—people you can trust to “know you can do it” without blindly praising your feebler efforts. If you’re active in a sobriety support group, you already know what accountability should entail: peers who praise your efforts, sympathize with your struggles and nudge you gently but firmly when you start making excuses.
REVIEW AND UPDATE YOUR RESOLUTIONS REGULARLY
Every three months or so, schedule a “retreat day” to go over your resolutions list (and your self-inventory). Evaluate your progress, note needed course corrections, and consider whether there are any goals that need to be added—or whether there are existing goals that don’t really belong on your list right now. Dropping a goal is all right if you do so after careful consideration and can honestly state that you set the goal without really thinking, or that it’s no longer appropriate to your situation. What counts most is keeping a realistic picture of your true passions—and accepting that at times you’ll be wrong about what’s best for you or what you really want.
After all, the true purpose of New Year’s resolutions and other goals is more than learning to finish what you start. It’s about getting the most out of a life journey that involves constant learning and growing.