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Ditch your New Year's Resolution and do this instead

Barb is determined that this year will be the year to get in shape and hop on that treadmill every morning. Despite a busy work-life, a couple of young children, a great husband and a boss that demands she responds to text messages at all hours, she wants to drop a few pounds that she put on during COVID and have more energy to enjoy with her family.

It is almost a cultural tradition to make a New Year’s resolution. Barb isn't alone in wanting to make a change in the New Year. More than half of Canadians regularly set New Years resolutions. Yet, research by Ipos suggests that 80% of us have already given up on our resolutions by February!

COIVD has made this a different year and I am hearing a different sort of theme to the goals people are setting this year. The Harvard Business Review reports employees are working 30% more this year and that is also showing up in the goals people are setting. Women are interested in setting clearer boundaries between home and work. They are concerned about how connected they are and are looking for some scheduled down time where they will turn off their phone - whether that be a day a week or after 8 pm at night. Some are turning off their phone during meals or scheduled family time so they can be more present with others. Barb tells me how her boss texts her at all hours and expects her to jump right away with a response - whether it is at 8pm on a weeknight or a Sunday evening. So Barb is looking to have a conversation with her boss so she can negotiate some much needed down time. One employee is going to book end her days with a walk around the block, another is going to put on a dance song as her transition from work to home as a way of creating a change in her energy level almost replacing her commute.

The good news is that no matter your objective this year, there are ways to ensure you reach your goal and continue those good habits beyond February.

1. Make your goal specific – if you aren’t sure what it a more fulfilling life is, it will be hard to know when you get there. Think about the process you need you to go through to get there and consider making that the goal instead – take a course on building a meaningful life by a certain date or hire a coach to help you.

2. Set a specific goal that you alone can control –avoid goals like improve my relationships or find the love of my life as you can't control these. You might be tempted to say you want to lose 20 pounds but you can’t control how quickly your weight will come off so consider identifying the habit you want to change instead. Perhaps the habit you change is I am going to work out 5 days a week or I am going to stop eating dessert. Or if your goal is related to relationships identify what you will do to get where you want to go "I will be present in my conversations with loved ones and leave my phone in another room."

3. Shift a habit rather than creating a new one. It is really hard to create a new habit as it is a pathway that has been repeated over and over again, so much so that it has largely become unconscious. Use that to your advantage and take a habit that you already have and modify it. If you tend to snack during the day and want to get healthier, change what you are snacking on. Switch up your chocolate bars for fruit. Replace your soft drinks with water and a spritz of lemon.

4. Make it easy. By setting up your environment to support you and your goals you can vastly improve the chances of success. Building on the example above, replace the ginger ale in the fridge with a container of water already flavored with lemon. Remove the ginger ale from the house or put it in the basement where it is hard to reach. If your goal is to practice your guitar each day, leave it out on a stand next to your favourite chair. One coach I know, goes to bed in his gym clothes to make it easier to work out in the morning.

5. Persist - recognize that success requires continual action and is not a straight line. It is normal that you will miss a day or fall off for a week. If you don’t sleep one night you may find it hard to get up early the next day to meditate. It is normal. So, get back and do it again the next day. They say it takes 7 tries to stop smoking so it helps if we know this upfront and commit to keeping at it even when we have fallen off.

6. Plan for things you expect will get in the way. Often, we have a good idea of what will get in the way of reaching our goals. Think about what will likely get in your way and then make a plan for when that happens so you don’t have to think about it. These are called “If, then plans”. For example, if you expect your children will keep you up in the night making it hard for you to get up early and work out, then, plan to work out after work on those days.

7. Get yourself some accountability. Find someone who either has a similar goal or who would be happy to support you in reaching your goal. Make a commitment to keep them up to date on your progress. You could text them each morning to let them know when you worked out. Or you could check in at the end of each week with a phone call and report how many times you reached for a healthy option. Your partner could help by scheduling a phone-free Sunday as well.

8. Make a contract with yourself. People that make a written commitment to themselves and actually sign it are more likely to reach their goals so take the time to write it out.

9. Celebrate your success. Break your goal down into small steps and celebrate each step along the way rather than waiting to celebrate when you meet that end goal. Think of ways you can create some excitement and reward yourself for the changes you are making along the way.

9. Practice self-compassion. Many of us have fallen into a perfectionist trap or self-critical thinking and while we often think this helps us to reach our goals, the opposite is true. People that are more self-compassionate are more likely to reach their goals. Focus on the wins you are having rather than the days you don’t meet your goal. Notice how it feels to congratulate yourself on working out 5 days this week compared to being hard on yourself for missing 2 days. Focus your attention on the changes that you are making and build on that.

This year, no matter what your goal and and approach, the most challenging part can be the persistence required to meet them. With these tips, you will be better prepared to keep at it, and keep at it, and keep at it, and make 2021 the year when you finally did it!

I can’t wait to celebrate your success with you!

Let me know what your goal is for 2021.

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