Posted by Max Kater

Poor old January – no other month carries the burden of expectation more heavily. Right from the get-go we launch ourselves in to a brand new year with high hopes and short memories. Damn You 2016. This year we will be different! We will lose those last 8 lbs, we will stop buying over-priced lattes so one day all those $3.50s will buy us a house, we will refrain from wasting our lives away on the life-suckage of social media. Poor Old January. No other month makes us feel quite so bummed when 4 days in we have stopped meditating, started smoking, resumed bitching and can be found feeding our feelings with a fat slice of cake washed down with tequila.

If an over-indulgent festive season has left you ripe for self-renovation, but this year you are determined to actually make it past week 1 with your resolutions still intact then let’s start by taking a look at what the hell we have been doing wrong.

Resolutions vs Goals? Most of the time our resolutions are not much more than lofty ideals. ‘This year I will be a better person’, ‘This year I will lose loads of weight’, ‘This year I will get out of debt’. I am afraid that bullshit is not going to cut it with our brains that are extremely effective in maintaining the status quo. It’s time to ditch these lofty ideals dressed up as resolutions and make the shift to setting specific goals.

That said, even goals can sound a little lofty if they aren’t broken down in to sizeable chunks. The 101 of getting anything done in life is to follow the S.M.A.R.T Rule (skip ahead if this is too elementary for you….).

 

It is said that the reason most of us fail at new resolutions or changes in our lives is because we aren’t actually going about them the right way.

Your Goals need to be:

Specific: (what do you want to do?) – I want to Exercise 4 x a week for 45 minutes each session, I want to lose 6 kilos by the end of March, I want to invest $10k in my super by the end of the year. Be clear about the outcome.
Measurable: (how you measure your success? – how will I know when my goal is accomplished?) – Being able to track your achievements ensures you stay on track and keeps you motivated. This might be about reaching a certain weight or running for a particular length of time or seeing the accumulated savings in your account.
Achievable: (a close friend of realistic with a subtle difference) -an achievable goal is one that signifies improvement from current state but one set in the boundaries of reality. If you haven’t been 60 kilos since you were 13 years old it might be a tad unrealistic to think you will get back down there. Pick an achievable amount to lose or save or type of behavior change so you are not setting yourself up to fail.
Realistic: (Keeping it real) This comes down to your own particular lifestyle. You might have set yourself an achievable goal to lose x or save y but are the ways you have chosen to do this realistic – can you actually run for 2 hrs every day? Will you never, ever buy anything except the absolute basics? Even if you could, how will this impact your work, your relationships and your wellbeing? Realistic/Relevant are pretty interchangeable here.
Timely: (when will you get this done by?) Setting a deadline gives your goal focus and a sense of urgency. I will have saved x by June 30th, I will have lost 5% body fat in 4 months, I will launch my blog by my birthday.

But Wait there’s more………

The 4 Stages of Change – have you jumped the gun too soon?

Changes don’t just happen because we want them to. According to behavior change researchers James Prochaska & Carlo DiClemente, people change in stages. Stage 1 (pre-contemplation) is still at the newborn stage – you kinda want to give up frozen pizza because you know it’s bad but you aren’t entirely convinced. Stage 2 (contemplation) is starting to get up on two wheels – you do want to change but are worried about the downsides – you want to drink less but there is that party next week and that wedding in June and you are worried everyone will think you are boring. At this stage you think by talking about what you want to do you are in some way already doing it – sort of. Stage 3 (preparation) is when you can really start to visualize the change but still have a few doubts and reservations. Finding solutions to these obstacles (such as seeing a specialist or signing up to classes) and conquering your fear of failure see you chin up, shoulders back at Stage 4 – this stage produces the highest rates for success. So if January is looking a little premature for that particular change hold back or find something smaller to start with.

Biting off More Than You Can Chew? Don’t be a superhero.

Talking of smaller – my sister on the 4th January sent me a message assuring me she was on track with her resolutions – it seems she is going to the gym, has started playing tennis, has stopped week day drinking and also stopped smoking. Most of us get so excited about a fresh start – and what could be fresher than those hopeful first days in January – we often try to do everything at once. Anyone of the above goals is worthy (and do-able if the S.M.A.R.T rule is applied and you are in the right stage of change) but they don’t need to be done all-at-the-same-time. There are 12 months in a year – take a little pressure off poor January and take it one goal at a time. Beware too the ‘all or nothing’ mentality and remember even the smallest changes are good – just because you ate that one slice of pizza there is no reason to abandon ship and get Dominos back on speed dial.

 

Common Misconceptions: Telling people your goal isn’t always the answer:

Nearly every ‘how to’ list with regards to resolutions will say that it is helpful to tell people your goals and that in doing do we become accountable. Not according to Steve Salerno who wrote a mighty fine book called, Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. His concern is that ‘the resolution takes the place of the action’ and people ‘think some magic words, some avowed promise, will magically transform their lives, when we all know that the real transformational work is tough, grueling, and usually involves sacrifice and unpleasant choices’.  In essence we are already patting ourselves on the back for something we haven’t yet done. This quick fix mentality can set us up to fail which is why choosing our goals wisely (do we reallyreally want this and are we actually prepared to put in the hard yards?) is so vital.

And if that all sounds too depressing for words you can take some comfort in my final suggestion.

New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) don’t have to be Negative: Part of the reason we can be tempted to give up on our goals is because they are usually focused on stuff that we perceive as negative. We become fixated on stopping this or giving up that or doing less of something else (that we probably love). How about being a little kinder to yourself this year and setting yourself some weekly, monthly and annual goals that you will look forward to keeping. It might be committing to a weekly catch up with a friend, or a monthly massage in the name of stress management, or an annual holiday with those you love.

If you must stop this or give up that, why not make those sacrifices in the same spirit of positivity. Why not giving up feeling guilty about x or stop apologizing about y? Stop doing less of stuff and start doing more.

 

*This Get Happier Post is brought to you by Charlotte Sherston: (Someone who believes that January is awesome and failing that there is always Monday).

 

For more advice about how to be happier and generally more kick-ass, please go to: www.thinrichhappy.com

 

 

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