As a busy daughter or son of aging parents, what is your approach to new year’s resolutions? Some of us say “This year will be different. I am going to follow through with my resolutions”. Others of us say, “Screw it. I have been down this new year’s resolution road too many times and I am not setting myself up for disappointment and failure” And then there are others who critique the idea of resolutions altogether, touting them as misguided ventures. The other day a busy caregiver told me she had enough pressure in her life and didn’t need to add more by committing to a new year’s resolution.
All of these approaches are completely understandable. More often than not, our resolve wanes, sometimes within only a few hours! You know the story. January’s exercise equipment becomes an expensive clothes horse until July’s garage sale.
Let’s take a compassionate look at what happens with new year’s resolutions. You may be relieved to know that it isn’t only about willpower. It is about setting up the conditions for success. Most resolutions are about lifestyle changes and either trying to get rid of a bad habit or create a good one. It is really hard to make such lifestyle changes. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need resolutions and we wouldn’t lose our resolve!
Just making the decision or the resolve to make a change isn’t sufficient. It starts there, of course, and that is what is cool about new year’s resolutions. We are encouraged to pause and reflect on our lives and what we would like to change. This resolve, however, needs to be propped up with reflection and concrete actions.
Here’s an example to highlight how our resolutions can be set up. I will use the example of self care, because at elizz.com, we take every conceivable opportunity to unabashedly plug self care for caregivers.
Six tips: Setting up new year’s resolutions for success
1. Be realistic.
This may seem obvious, but a common mistake people make is aiming too high. If for example, we currently take no time whatsoever for self care, then it may be unrealistic to say that our new year’s resolution is to do an hour of self care every day! It may be more realistic to say“ I will engage in (1) 5-minute self care activity every day”. Here’s the real question for you: Are you more likely to follow through if it is an hour commitment or a 5 minute one? Yes, that was rhetorical.
2. Choose wisely. Think impact.
Be specific about your self care goals & choose those that will have the greatest impact on your well-being. In the context of self care, is it getting more sleep or is it a daily walk or is it cutting out sugar — that would benefit you most? While all are laudable, it is best to focus on one or two goals at the most. Why? Because ‘done feels good’.
3. Write it down.
Goals are more likely to be met if they are written down. We feel a greater sense of accountability when we write down our goals. When tracking our progress towards our goals, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our patterns of behavior and when we may sabotage ourselves. That is, when do we get derided from our goals when are we least likely to take time for ourselves? When do we abandon our own self care? Conversely, when are we most likely to take time for ourselves and our self care needs?
4. Schedule actions related to your goal/s.
If we give ourselves time to think about it, we could very well talk ourselves out of it. Whether this ‘it’ is a walk, reading, spending time with a dear friend, or getting to bed at a decent hour, it is best to have it scheduled. If your plan, for example, is to walk 3 times a week, mark those 3 days in your calendar. Set a reminder on your phone when it is bedtime or when it is time to hit the gym. These external nudges are extremely valuable when we are creating a new habit.
5. Don’t let a slip derail you: don’t give up.
Let’s be honest. You may skip the gym or your walk, get to bed late, or have that piece of chocolate. In fact, it’s almost inevitable (we’re only human after all). What is more important is what you say to yourself about it. Don’t beat yourself up and use it as an excuse reason to give up. Forgive yourself and get on with it! Perfectionism will not serve you. One of my favourite quotes from our It.Is.Time. Journal is “Have you ever noticed how “what the hell” is always a good decision?” This quote reminds me not to be too rigid and be open to spontaneous experiences. If we rigidly adhere to perfectionism, we can miss out on fun and interesting ventures. We can always get back to our resolutions…tomorrow.
6. Share your goal/resolution with a supportive person in your life.
Making a lifestyle change is hard. It takes time and energy. A support network can be tremendously helpful to reach your goal. Share your experiences and struggles and ask a friend to help by holding you accountable. You may want to consider joining a group, like workout classes at the gym, or gathering a group of coworkers together (did someone say it’s time for our lunchtime walk?)
As you can see, new year’s resolutions are about more than willpower. Start off with that understanding and then build in the conditions to make follow through more likely.
Let us know about your new year’s resolutions and how you are setting yourself up for success!
Check out our It.Is.Time Journal. It’s a great resource to keep track of little messages to yourself, especially when they relate to trying something new. And… it’s a little quirky too! We think it’s important to stay on track and have a few laughs along the way.