‘Tis the season of reorganizing and resolutionizing (I just made that one up). Memberships to gyms all across America are increasing along with lists of projects, goals, and bucket lists for 2016. However, much like that Christmas ham lingering in the refrigerator, resolutions just don’t keep.
What’s the deal!
If you are like me, I enter every New Year with a lot of anticipation and optimism. I make a lot of goals (too many) and then work to reach them until I get too tired and too busy to care (usually some time around February, or March if it’s a really good year). Some goals I forget about, and some goals I shrug off like “What in the world was I thinking?! Never eat sugar again? Sheesh. Really.” But, there is something to be said about goal setting, and goal reaching, but I think it has less to do with yearly resolutions and more to do with habits that develop over time.
Here’s what I mean.
I think the reason you and I give up so easily on anything is that we fail once, so we will probably fail again, so what’s the use in trying? But failure is only failure when we give up entirely on something that matters to us. The real failure is in dismissing what we care about, not in making mistakes. I fail almost every day in one way or in another- as a wife, mom, teacher, friend, etc. But I don’t let my daily mistakes define me. If I did that then I would never have the ambition to put effort into anything.
We have to admit that we fail and that we will more than likely have setbacks with any goal that we set.
Because we get sick.
Because the water heater breaks.
Because our husband gets a new job.
Because we get tired.
Because the printer dies.
Because we realize come late winter that we are in fact, human.
This is not pessimism. This is not for lack of faith This is real life.
Habits, Not Resolutions
We really do not want to fail. There is that weight loss goal to be met, or that financial hurdle to overcome, and we want to feel better about ourselves and our situation. Setting goals, psychologically, makes us feel like we are beginning to make our way there- beyond the present struggle. And the way to reach any goal is to first begin by stating what in fact we want to accomplish. We must start. But we must not end there. And this is why we fail- we begin and then we end.
But, what if we approached setbacks with a “comma” rather than a “period?”
Goal: I will run every morning for 30 minutes before I get ready for work.
Two weeks in, you’re good to go. But then you miss a day. And then you run on Saturday again. But then you miss two days the next week, and then several more the following week until you give up the whole thing altogether.
You run again. Sure, you missed several days (perhaps weeks), but you don’t think about that. You run. And when you miss a day or two, you run again, working to become more consistent with your goal. Before you know it you will be running way more this year than you did the previous year. And sure, maybe “I will run every day” was a bit audacious and unrealistic, but you made running a habit in 2016 when in 2015 it was virtually nonexistent. You should be commended for this- go you!
How to Develop Habits that Will Last
I am an imperfect perfectionist, which basically means that I strive to perfect whatever I am doing knowing that I am doing a lousy job at it…so in other words, I am hard on myself. A lot of us are like this. In the past year or two, though, I have sought ways to cut myself some slack and work towards a slow and steady progress rather than immediate gratification. I want results- now! But personal growth does not work like that. We have to be patient with ourselves and with the process. So, I am learning to incorporate healthy habits in my life that may not look like much in 2015, but over the long haul come 2030 there may be something to show for all of this hard work with occasional setbacks.
Here are 4 ways you and I can develop habits that will stick for the long haul:
- Write down specific, time-bound, and measurable goals that you want to meet (with an open mind that there will be setbacks).
- When you have a setback, don’t give up on the goal! It’s just a setback, it does not define you, and it does not invalidate your goal. Just pick back up where you left off. So what if you don’t reach every detail of your goal.
- Look for progress, not perfection. No one is perfect, and we all will fail at one point or another. Growth is key, not speed. Some goals may take longer to reach than others, and this is okay and normal.
- Re-assess your goals and your progress from time to time. When we do reach a goal, we check it off of our list, but when we fail to reach another we simply ignore it. This is counterintuitive to habit-forming. I find that an occasional assessment of unmet goals along with the ones that are reached is a good way to evaluate the quality of the goals along with developing persistence, which is needed to form habits.
So, ditch the resolutions. Work towards forming habits. Cut yourself some slack this year and really consider what habits you want to incorporate into your life for the long haul. And remember, whatever you do, don’t give up!