New Year’s Resolutions can become an annual routine that feels more like wishes from a magic Genie, than real goals you expect to accomplish. You make a long list of things you wish were different, and then what? Without any forethought, truly nothing will happen.
There is something about the start of a new year that is motivating and timely for making changes and starting new routines. While only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are followed through with a successful strategy, changing the way you view and keep resolutions can lead to greater success.
The definition of a resolution is, “The act of resolving or determining an action, course of action…a determination…to do something or not do something…the mental state or quality of being resolved…firmness of purpose.” This does not describe a long list of 10 things we wish were different in your life. This involves focus and determination to meet a distinct and meaningful goal.
The reason so many New Year’s resolutions fail is not because you don’t really want to make something happen. It’s not because they are not valuable and noble aspirations you are seeking. It is that when a resolution becomes a mere wish, rather than a true resolution, there is no action behind the goal that will create the changes you desire.
With this in mind, the following 10 tricks will empower you to make resolutions you are able to keep, and strategies for accomplishing your deepest desires.
- Make It Personal. A resolution should be something that connects with a deep desire you want in your life. What it is that you really, really want to achieve. Do you want financial security, better health, or more time for family and friends? What would put a smile on your face every day if you could achieve it? Then look at what behaviors you currently have that are preventing you from accomplishing that goal.
- One Step at A Time. Choosing a laundry list of resolutions cannot be accomplished simultaneously. You can only focus on one resolution at a time. Each goal may include a number of small changes that must be made for success. By choosing an overarching resolution and then laying out the small steps required for the journey, you will find yourself headed in the right direction.
- Visualize It. Once you have selected one resolution that represents your deepest desire, picture it in your mind. Don’t say I want to be debt free. Instead imagine what freedom from debt will look like. It’s not really the debt that bothers you, it’s the lack of freedom. Debt payments suck your income and prevents you from achieving other financial goals. Instead think financial security, travel, retirement. What would you be able to accomplish without your debt. Once you can visualize where you want to be, find a picture that represents your goal. Keep that picture in your wallet, on your bathroom mirror, or someplace where you will be reminded daily of why you are making changes to your life.
- Create a Plan. Measure it, automate it, and break it up into bite size pieces. Your resolution is probably a big change you are trying to make in your life. Creating small benchmarks or goals along the way will help you see progress and track progress. You can only “see” progress when it is measured and tracked. This step helps keep you motivated, opening the door to long term changes that can change your life.
- Expect Failure. Anything worth achieving will mean overcoming roadblocks and challenges. We often hear people say, “failure is not an option,” or “there is no plan B.” This can create a sense that things should be expected to go smoothly. Instead embrace Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Expect setbacks and plan for a way to address them when they happen. If you want to get out of debt, expect unexpected expenses to crop up. The car will break down at the most inopportune time. A family member will call asking for money or a family member will get sick. Plan for it so when these things happen you will not become discouraged and quit. Even if you feel you take two steps forward and one step back, you are still one step ahead of the game.
- Focus on Past Successes. It can be easy to lament the $40,000 in debt staring you down each week. This can leave you feeling overwhelmed and ready to give up because the task ahead of you feels impossible. When you feel discouraged, because once again money earmarked towards debt reduction went somewhere else, set your mind on past accomplishments. Whether it’s educational achievements, sports victories, or learning a new skill, allow past successes to motivate and encourage you to keep going.
- Remove Temptations. If you want to spend less money stay out of the mall or other places where you are tempted to overspend. Don’t enter a store and wander the isles. Shop with a list and stick to the list. Wait before buying things that are not essential. Shop once a week for food, and remove account numbers from online stores and accounts. Simple changes in behavior can lead to big reductions in spending without feeling like you are making huge sacrifices.
- Write It Down and Talk It Up. Written goals are more sustainable than ones you just make mental notes of. There is power is writing down your desires and physically tracking progress. It makes the goal real and increases your desires. Telling others like family and friends will help create a support network and give you accountability. If you tell your best friend you want to reduce debt, she is less likely to invite you to a pricey lunch or a shopping trip, which could cause you to lose sight of your goals. Instead of saying, “I can’t afford it,” say, “It’s not in the budget.” The later phrase gives you more control over spending choices and reminds you that other priorities matter more than the temptation in front of you.
- Avoid Absolutes. When setting goals leave some wiggle room. If you want to go on a diet and forbid ever eating chocolate, you will find all you can think about is the chocolate that is taboo. The same is true for budgets. A budget that eliminates every pleasure will often result in spending splurges that add up to even higher spending. Know what you spend money on and then reduce the budget by 10% or more in each category. This will allow you to change habits and make permanent changes to your spending, all while reducing debt or reaching other financial goals you have set.
- Track and Reward. Reaching meaningful resolutions will take both time and effort. Track progress and celebrate as you reach benchmarks. Celebration should be often enough to keep you motivated to reach the next milestone.
Resolutions have the power to change lives for the better. They are a chance for a do-over and an opportunity to reach higher and further than we could previously imagine.