New Year’s Resolutions

How to make New Year’s Resolutions

What is a New Year’s resolution, anyway?  Are you always determined to make yourself a better person than you were before?  Or is it more like the wish you make when you blow out your birthday candles: quickly thought up and quickly forgotten?

Before you set this weight loss goal or that gym membership plan, spend some time thinking through what your long-term goal is.  What will really motivate you to make improvements this year?  What is pulling you forward towards your best life?

In my own reflection on making and keeping New Year’s resolutions over the years, I have come up with some rules, or a framework, if you like, for the process of resolving to become a better person.  Here they are:

1. Celebrate your achievements from last year.  Celebration comes first.  Looking back, I can see times throughout the year when I have made progress on my goals, and even though that progress sometimes seems microscopic, it is still real, a source of gladness.

2. Expect lapses and resolve to pick up and carry on afterwards.  When looking back, of course, I can see times when I have not held to my resolve and have stagnated, or even slipped back.  But I can also see that when that happens, there is always a chance to pick myself back up and start again.  No lapse is final.

3. Consider your life’s purpose.  Research has shown that people who have a sense of purpose in life, however simple it may be, live longer, healthier lives and report more happiness.  What is your purpose?  It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but yourself, and you may not even be able to completely articulate it to your own satisfaction, but you still know what you’re aiming for.  This year, make a resolution that gets you further on the road towards your goal.

4. Utilize the power of neuroplasticity.  You can actually train your brain to think the kinds of thoughts that will move you forward instead of holding you back.  Train yourself to recognize whenever a thought like: “I’ll never make it, I’m not the successful type” pops up and learn to replace it with something like: “I’m making progress towards my goals”.  Positive thoughts have been shown to actually make new neural pathways in the brain so that it becomes easier and easier to think of yourself as a successful person.

5. Count the cost.  Keeping to a resolution is not easy (no surprise there!)  Vowing to eat healthy means giving up the heady sugar rush of bingeing on donuts.  Planning to work on insomnia may mean giving up late night TV.  It helps to acknowledge from the start what the cost is going to be and promise to accept it, knowing that the cost will come before the payoff.

Some people say it’s not worth the trouble to try to make resolutions, and others find them helpful.  But if you decide to make some, do it mindfully, and avoid the guilt inherent in deciding to get better without thinking through how it’s done.

Happy New Year!