Most New Year’s resolutions go something like this: This year I’m going to get in shape, keep in better touch with family, play with my kids more, eat healthier, be more spontaneous, spend more me-time, have more date nights with my partner….and so on. We mean well but usually end up disappointed.
In case you’re wondering, there’s nothing wrong with you. Here’s the problem. It’s innocent enough when you resolve to “eat healthier” in 2017 but what does that really mean? How will you know that you’ve accomplished it? Do you have the knowledge, resources and support to be successful? These lofty resolutions come from a good place but may ultimately be hurtful if they are too broad, not realistically attainable or you like the idea of doing but aren’t really committed to. It is a powerful act of kindness towards yourself to set goals that are realistic and attainable. It’s not about making it easier by setting the bar low. It’s about honoring that making changes is difficult, potentially painful, and is going to require work. Dismissing it as something that you should be able to do easily if you put your mind to it is being judgmental and harsh towards yourself. I could write a whole blog about should and the importance of not shoulding all over yourself. If you want more on that check out the blog “Create a Kinder Mind: How to Stop You Mean, Hurtful Self-talk”
You may be thinking at this point – my resolutions are realistic and I still can’t seem to accomplish them. Not being able to achieve the goals you set for yourself can be downright demoralizing. “There I go again” “I don’t know why I even try” “What is wrong with me?!” These are the very harsh and hurtful messages we can give ourselves after we perceive that we’ve “fallen short once again.” If this is the case for you, it may helpful to dig a little deeper into what’s going on. What are the barriers that are making it difficult? Why is it that managing my money is so hard for me? Why have I not been able to achieve this goal? It’s also important be honest with yourself about whether or not you’re committed to making this change. Do you like the idea of spending less or do you feel ready to make a specific change in your relationship with money? This may mean exploring these things within yourself or talking to someone you trust to get another perspective. It may also help to break your resolution down into smaller steps so that you have a path to follow to get to your destination. When you do this make sure that the smaller goals (leading to the larger resolution) are things that are fully within your control. For instance, if I want to eat less sugar I cannot totally control whether or not I am around sweets. I can, however, control what I choose to buy at the grocery store.
The two alternatives to the traditional New Year’s Resolution that I have to offer are to set SMART goals or set an intention instead of a resolution. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Here’s a SMART goal that we’ll use as an example – “My goal is to run in the LEAF Art Dash 5k Race this August.” Setting a goal that is specific is important because otherwise it can be overwhelming. Running in a 5k is much more specific than “getting in shape.” Measurable means that you can measure whether or not you’ve accomplished it. You will know if you ran in the 5k. You will likely have trouble identifying at what point you are or aren’t “in shape.” Attainable and realistic are related. They both ask that you choose something that you have the time, resources, knowledge and support to do. Timely means that there is a timeframe within which you are trying to achieve the goal. The 5k is in August so there is a timeframe work within and it gives a built in sense of accountability and structure.
Setting intentions is another powerful way to set things in motion in your life in a much different way than setting a goal. Setting an intention can be more open ended because you may not know how something is going to look or how you’re going to make it happen. If you do, by all means be specific, but if you don’t it can be just as effective. For instance, you could set an intention to be kinder to yourself or to be more affectionate with your partner. It can help to have a reminder of this intention somewhere where you can see it – writing it down and putting on your refrigerator for example. You can have a small activity that marks the setting of the intention – lighting a candle, potting a plant, or coloring in the word that you wrote – it can be simple. If you have kids they may want to participate. The point is that you are clearly stating what you want and marking it with some action. The beauty of an intention is that you don’t have to be as concerned about the details. It’s like the message in the bottle. Write it down and send it out into the ocean (the world), confident that it will bring something back, unattached to what exactly it will be.
Andrew Bednarzik, MA, LPC, specializes in new dads, transition into adulthood and men's issues.