Published January 12, 2014 NEWEUROPE
The optimised new year’s resolution
By Alexander Anghelou
Psychologist Specialized in Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Belgium – Brussels– New Year’s is often the time of year when one thinks of resolutions, what they want to change and improve in their lives. People make lists of things they would like to improve or achieve in the coming year. This is a good idea, but why do so few people actually achieve their resolutions? Usually these lists have no plan and if they do, then they are usually not time bound.
Change is a scary process for all of us. It requires us to go against our habits in a consistent way. It’s a conscious process that requires effort. People often expect things to happen just because they decided they should. But one shouldn’t expect change if they keep on doing the same thing.
This is why unless you plan things and do them in a consistent way, the likelihood that things change is low. So this year, I’ve decided to approach my new year’s resolution differently.
My starting point is to identify things I want to achieve. All this while bearing in mind that achieving a goal is appealing but that it also comes at a ‘cost.’ Before going any further we need to evaluate the ‘price’ of our goals and to see if we can ‘afford’ them. This means that we have to see if we have the resources and the willingness to make the effort required to reach those goals.
Once the list is adapted and that we can be confident that we can ‘afford’ each clear and measurable goal on the list. Then we need to make a plan for each goal.
Let’s imagine our first goal is to run a 20km race. First, what are the prerequisites?
1. A check-up with our general practitioner
2. Equipment necessary (shoes and clothing)
3. A heart rate monitor watch
4. A personal trainer to get a tailored plan of how to build muscle and endurance.
Once the prerequisites are identified and integrated in our calendar, we can start addressing them. Let’s say the race is on the 21th of June, which is on the 25th week of the year. Then we should define the week-by-week training schedule with the personal trainer till the day of the event. It is often good to include a margin of error, let’s take a two week buffer in this case. A regular re-evaluation and fine tuning of the plan should be included at each checkpoint in the schedule. This plan should be part of our daily routine until the goal is completed and not something we look at again at the end of the year.
Another important step that is often forgotten is to identify mental obstacles, so as to defuse the resistance caused by fear and anxiety. Many, for example, are afraid of failure which often leads to postponing the project and never really getting round to it. It is less threatening to not try and not achieve than to try and not achieve, but if you don’t try then you can be sure that your goal will not be reached which isn’t necessarily true about the scenario in which you make the effort.
To defuse this fear, you need to come to terms with the undesirable alternative scenarios where things don’t go the way you had wanted them to.
The key to success (and survival) is resilience, adapting the plan to the reality as it unfolds and to persevere until the goal is reached or until you reach an ‘investment’ limit you have set. Most times, we aren’t willing to reach a goal at any ‘cost.’
Coming to terms with reality is actually not always that easy, many people lose years of their lives being in denial and refuse to come to terms with their reality. This may be more comfortable in the short-term, but it is counterproductive in the long-term. Accepting the current reality is not always pleasant, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we can work towards improving it.
Aside from giving clarity and structure, a plan, takes away decision making, all you need to do is to execute and follow the plan; just do it, no thinking required. Decisions are for when you plan and for the evaluation and fine-tuning at the checkpoints not while executing the plan. Whenever you have difficulty finding the motivation for the required tasks, remind yourself what your goal means to you and why you want to achieve it, seeing the big pictures will boost motivation.
If you implement the strategy and recommendations above, the chance that you enjoy the benefits of the goals you have set for yourself this year is high. Have a great and successful year!