As the old year ends and the new year begins, people reflect on the past twelve months and consider what they want to change in the coming twelve months. These reflections usually result in vague and useless resolutions.
I know, I know, how can I call New Year’s resolutions useless? After all, they represent our hopes for a better future and tell us what we should do to get that better future, right? Well, sort of. They do represent our hopes for the future, but they really don’t give us any way to get there. Look at the following New Year’s resolutions and ask yourself what they actually mean.
This year, I will get healthy.
This year, I will read more.
This year, I will spend more time with my family.
What does it mean to get healthy, read more, or spend more time with family? A resolution is a starting point, but more work needs to be done before it can be truly useful. What if, instead of making resolutions this year, we made goals? What if we made real, concrete, achievable goals that we could actually accomplish rather than vague resolutions that we lost track of by the middle of January?
Let’s take a look at the first resolution: This year, I will get healthy. What does healthy look like to you? When you say you want to get healthy, does that mean you want to lose weight? Get stronger? Change your eating habits? Sleep more? You see, there’s a lot of ambiguity in that one statement.
So, the first step is to define the desired outcome. If I say I want to get healthier, what I mean is that I want to wake up in the morning rested and ready to start the day. I want to maintain an even level of energy throughout the day without feeling too stuffed or too hungry, and I want to be strong and flexible enough to play.
That’s a lot to accomplish all at once — no wonder I’ll give up on this resolution after just a couple of weeks! But, now that I’ve defined the goal, I can break it down into manageable pieces and set concrete steps to achieve my overarching goal of being healthy.
The first part of being healthy I defined was waking up in the morning ready to start the day. That requires getting enough sleep. To get enough sleep, I need to get to bed at a decent time, so the first sept toward my goal of getting enough sleep is to set a bedtime. Let’s say I want to have the lights out by 11:00 every night. Realistically, I can do that. In order to do that, I need to start getting ready for bed by 10:30 at the latest. That would give me just enough time to get myself and my dog ready for bed, but it wouldn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room and would make bedtime rather stressful. A stressful bedtime wouldn’t be conducive to falling asleep, so I need to give myself more time.
I could give myself two full hours to wind down and get ready for bed, and that would be lovely, but shutting everything down and getting ready for bed at 9:00 simply isn’t realistic for me, so I’ll compromise and say that I’m going to start getting ready for bed by 10:00. If I don’t need the whole hour, then I can read, write in my journal, or crochet. Now I have a concrete set of steps I can turn to to help me get more sleep, which will help me wake up rested and ready to start my day. I can add to these steps any time if I find it necessary. Let’s say I realize that drinking a cup of tea every afternoon is preventing me from sleeping well at night. I can add a step to my list saying that I will only drink herbal tea after 1:00 in the afternoon.
I’ll follow the same steps for the other two parts of being healthy that I’ve identified and I’ll have three concrete goals with steps that I can actually do. When I lose track of my goals, which happens more than I’d like to admit, I have already defined the steps to get back on track. All I have to do is follow them. If I follow these steps faithfully, I will see changes in my health over the course of the year. These changes won’t happen all at once, but they will happen because I’ve taken action rather than made a wish.
So, what do you say? This New Year, let’s make goals, not resolutions. Happy New Year, everyone!