Most resolutions have a similar trajectory: kick off the first week of January and fade away in February. That’s because most resolutions also have a similar foundation: They start with a “should.”
Many of us set resolutions that we think we should. We should lose weight. We should diet. We should make more money. We should have a super clean, clutter-free home. We should strive for wanting less — or wanting more.
So it’s understandable why most resolutions stay unresolved. But by shifting how you view, and act, on resolutions and act on them, you can set goals that genuinely nourish you and contribute value to your life.
Below, two experts share eight suggestions for setting authentic and achievable resolutions.
1. Figure out if you even want to set resolutions.
We forget, but resolutions are optional. “It may feel most nourishing to let go of the pressure to make a promise to yourself that you might not be able to keep,” said Judith Matz, LCSW, Clinical Social Worker and co-author of The Diet Survivors Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care and Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Therapist’s Guide to Treating Compulsive Eating.
2. Think of resolutions as “intentions.”
“That way, you can move in the direction of something that’s important to you, rather than having to change or overcome something all at once,” Matz said. It also allows you to savor what goes well and reflect when you get stuck, she said.
3. Focus on your values.
If you do want to pursue resolutions, recognize what’s important to you, said Ashley Solomon, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who blogs at Nourishing the Soul. Ask yourself “What value of mine is this resolution serving?” she said.
For instance, you might plan to walk 30 minutes a day. But how does [this goal] connect with living a valued, vibrant life?” she said.
“When people can identify how their goal will contribute to leading them in valued directions, they are more likely to be able to sustain it when it gets challenging,” she said.
“Reflect on what will truly nurture you body, mind, or spirit,” Matz said. “Don’t let shoulds rule your resolutions. And choose something that comes from a strong internal desire rather than external pressures.”
4. Consider who this intention involves.
Solomon also suggested asking yourself: “Who am I doing this for?” “It’s okay if it’s for more than just ourselves, but we need to be clear on how this change will impact others, so that we can be prepared,” she said.
5. Focus on the details.
When setting your goal, be very specific. Instead of striving to stay in touch with your brother, commit to calling him on Sunday afternoons, Solomon said.
Also, ask yourself where you need to start, she said. “Think through the goal as if [you’re] writing a movie script – detail by detail,” she said. Let’s say you’d like to cook dinner four nights a week. That’s a great goal, Solomon said, but “not if [you] don’t know the difference between a pot and a pan.” Instead, you might start with finding a cooking class, she said.
This also speaks to the importance of starting with a small goal, as Matz recommended. For instance, if you’d like to be more active, first take a walk, try a yoga class or see if you even have the right shoes, she said.
Along the way check in with yourself. “If you find that your first step is satisfying, build in another step as you continue your journey,” Matz said.
6. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking is the idea that you do things completely and perfectly or you don’t do them at all. But this kind of thinking only sabotages and paralyzes your progress and makes you feel like a failure, Matz said. For instance, you might not have enough time to organize your whole home, but you might have time for a few closets, she said. And this still moves you toward your intention.
7. Find support.
“We all need support and accountability when it comes to making a change,” Solomon said. She stressed the importance of gathering support before starting. “We need to put that support system in place prior to jumping into a resolution head-first,” she said.
8. Dig deeper.
Many of us automatically view ourselves as hopeless failures if we don’t accomplish a goal. Instead, be kind to yourself and try to better understand what’s stopping you from moving forward, Matz said.
Take the example of becoming more active, again. Consider if you’ve carved out enough time for physical activities or whether you’ve found activities you actually enjoy, Matz said. Or maybe there’s something deeper going on, she said. “Instead of waiting until next January 1 to try again, reflect on your progress and make an active decision about what to do next.”
If you’re making the same resolution every year, consider if it’s really what you want, Matz said. And if it is, again, dig deeper, and identify what’s obstructing your path, she said.
Sometimes, the wisest move is to walk away from a resolution. “Sometimes the best and healthiest thing we can do is to give up on certain goals, particularly if we’re finding that their pursuit is not leading us to be the person we want to be,” Solomon said.
Nourishing intentions “support you in your life’s journey,” Matz said. So when selecting your intention and acting on it, make sure it’s something that truly nurtures you and adds value to your life.
New Year’s resolution photo available from Shutterstock