Is your New Year Resolve looking a little frayed around the edges already? Is motivation flagging and emotion rising up in revolt?
Well, many resolutions ARE made to be broken. However, a problem with giving up on your resolution right now is that it could set the tone for a dispiriting year ahead where you stop expecting success and feel bad about letting your ‘new self’ down. But all is not lost – you can rework those objective and resolutions.
So read on to see how you can plan workable and trackable goals, motivate yourself by building on successes and moving past failures and – a BATT take on things – how you can make a New Year’s Resolution on any day of the year.
Warning: This post is long. But it’s probably a good reminder that anything worthwhile takes a tiny bit of time.
SMART Objectives and Goals
A lot of resolutions fail because they are framed during that deliriously ambitious period between 11.59 pm on Dec 31st and 12.00 am on January 1st. Mad zeal overtakes common sense and a desire to lose weight suddenly becomes a resolve to “lose weight, do yoga thrice a week, eat once a day on weekdays and drink fruit smoothies the rest of the time, go for an early morning run every day, followed by a cold shower and learn how to cook those diet cakes and sweets so i can fit into those pants by the end of the month…”
Most of this is possible and possibly even make up good goals. But let’s start by SMARTening it up.
These are goals that are Specific Measurable Achieveable Relevant and Time-bound. Let’s assume that X, a slightly overweight, overworked and sleep-deprived person wants to ‘become healthier’. Sounds possible? Now let’s smarten that up.
SPECIFIC : Define healthy. After all, if X is slightly overweight, losing 1 kg is as healthy as losing 2. Or just walking a little faster every day is healthier. Or sleeping 10 minutes more! So – let’s ask X to define what specifically constitutes ‘healthy’ so that they know for sure when it is achieved.
“I want to become fitter, lose about 11 kilos and sleep more regular hours”.
Alright. Now we’re getting somewhere.
MEASURABLE: Now you know WHERE you want to go. But how do you know if you’re heading in the right direction or you’re getting derailed? You need to see if you’re making progress. So let’s see how to track progress:
“The first step is probably being able to climb up the flight of stairs at home without getting out of breath. And getting about 6 hours of sleep a night instead of the 4 hours I’m getting right now.”
If you break down the final goal into smaller, accurately measurable sub-goals, you’ll be able to take a much better call on how things are going as you progress, rather than landing up in December realising that you’re still panting after 15 steps, though you have lost a kilo or two.
ACHIEVABLE: This is the hard part. Everyone urges us to ‘Dream big’ ! Sure, dream big. But make sure you’re not dreaming crazy!
Probably not achievable given X’s background: “Starting tomorrow I’m going to be up at 5 in the morning and run 2 kilometres. And I guess I could do some weights in the evening. And some sit-ups when I watch TV….that should help me fit into those pants I saw on that model by the end of the month.”
Achievable, “By April I want to be able to wake up by 6 and run a kilometre. And fit into the pants I last wore in early 2013. And realise that the pants on that model are probably never going to fit me because he/she and I have fundamentally different body builds.”
However, to avoid taking the lazy way out and under-achieving, you could always try and talk things out with a trusted friend/confidant. Remember, never be afraid to ask other people for their inputs. It takes nothing away from what you achieve ultimately and might even help you achieve that much more.
RELEVANT: Relevance is important. If a goal is really not important to your daily life, routine or ideals, your motivation’s going to run dry pretty soon.
If X decides that their goal is to be able to down two glasses of pavakka (bitter-gourd) juice by May, then things get complicated. This is certainly an achievable goal. But how important and relevant, really, is pavakka in the larger scheme of things? Will it help X lose weight and get more sleep? Tying your success or failure to that is bit dicey.
TIME-BOUND: This is where things get real. X not only has a plan, but X’s plan is now given a definite dead-line, which makes it easier for X to plan ahead and set out the measurable sub-goals.
After all, there is a vast difference between saying “I want to sleep 3 hours earlier by the end of the year” and saying “In three weeks, i want to have scaled back my sleeping time by about 20 minutes.”
As you can see SMART works together because all these aspects are interlinked : making a goal specific ensures that you can make it measurable and that you put a time to it. And checking how achievable the goal is certainly helps you set realistic deadlines as well. Deadlines, in turn, help you trim off the irrelevant bits.
So what X is left with now, is a shiny new resolution: By July 2015, I want to have lost 12 kilos. I want to be sleeping at least 7.5 hours a day, and waking up by 6.30. I want to be able to swim 50 laps non-stop in CBC pool.”
The measurable sub-goals will then indicate how much progress X makes each month to achieve this by July. (“2.5 kilos a month, scaling back my sleep routine by about 15-20 minutes every three weeks. Swimming 5 laps more every week.”)
So that’s SMARTened up the goals. But we still need to count in a major factor: Experiencing Success.
Experiencing Success and Failure
Our perception of ourselves is quite strongly linked to personal experiences of success and failure. Someone who abandoned too many goals or resolutions half-way through is going to decide that they are incapable of achievement. This leads to further defence mechanisms, of course, that come to define that person’s idea of what they can and can’t do.
If you action plan is too rigid, it doesn’t take into account that very few changes are absolute and overnight affairs. You will then see every drawback as a failure, see every failure as an endorsement of your inability to achieve thing and, if prolonged, might even start building plans that you know are doomed to fail .
How can you use this knowledge? By using the following BATT-formulated principle: Plan for failure – build on success.
Anticipate that there will be setbacks. This will also help you plan in advance and identify and work around setbacks. Also remember to note progress. So when future setbacks come, you don’t sit back and say “Right. So I anticipated this. it’s happened. So I’ll just abandon my plans.” Instead, you can say, “Ok. I knew there’d be some hitches. This is a *&@*^*& pain in the neck. But I’ve come so far and had some success, so let’s keep going and see what happens.”
Do not be afraid to change your strategy midway through if a particular obstacle gives you a new perspective. But there’s a thin line between re-working a strategy after a reasonable trial period, and re-working a strategy every 3 days because those old pants don’t button up yet.
To fight despair and a drop in motivation (very natural, over time if no success further pushes you) make sure you are noting down experiences with success. Suppose X currently sleeps at 2 or 2.30, any night X goes to sleep before that counts as a success, until this new approximate time forms a new habit.
A lot of our behaviour stems from habits formed over years. Expecting to undo them in a couple of days is usually as unrealistic as expecting to grow a new nose just because you want to. Habits take time to form, and are only formed by repetitive behaviour.
Going back to the bedtime example, if X decides to sleep ten minutes earlier every three weeks (and persists despite a couple of nights of sleeping later), it becomes a habit. Once going to sleep 10 minutes earlier becomes more or less easy/automatic, X can scale it back by a further 10-15 minutes. In this way, X is essentially turning each goal-behaviour into a habit, rather than looking at it as some arduous, heroic task to be achieved EVERY NIGHT.
Your sub-goals should become habits that approximate the final result: sleeping earlier every night, making it a habit to go for a 15 minute walk every morning or evening, and walking up one flight of stairs wherever you go, morning or evening.
When a habit is acquired, push it back: make that sleeping another 15 minutes earlier, tack on another 10 minutes of walking to the evening session – and trying taking the stairs even if it’s 2 flights up.
From experience – forming the new habit takes the most patience and perseverance. Pushing it back – i.e. moving closer and closer to your final goal-behaviour is just a whole lot of fun and self-exploration once the basic habit is formed!
So, if you’ve made it this far through the post, step back and look at where you want to be 6 months from now and how reasonable that goal is. Break it down into small goals and see what kind of problems you’re likely to have. Talk it over with someone and make a commitment to someone to achieve the sub-goals, so that you have external and internal motivation as well as witnesses to remind you of success. Also learn to ignore people who remind you of failures while downplaying your success. Failures shouldn’t be tossed aside, but nor should they be the only thing you remember from your efforts. There will certainly be people who laugh at your goals or action plan. Unless they’re willing to help you with SMART plans of their own, stop sharing things with them. It’ll probably give you more time to focus on other things as well!
And finally – move away from the Psychological Glamour of January 1st. Jan 1st resolutions bring us that satisfying sense of potential and a Fresh Start that a virgin calendar page brings. But in reality, as the BATT poster shows you, it’s just another day. And every day, every single day in a calendar year, marks a new year (hence our celebration of ‘anniversaries’). And you can even create new milestones for yourself! I.e. “February 2nd, the first day I swam 40 lengths!” and you can make every Feb 2nd the day you swim at least 40 lengths. Or increase it by 40 every year …
But if you DO need to bolster your spirits and deadlines with a ‘fresh start’, then Indians, especially, have rather hit the jackpot. You can, depending on where you are and which part of the country you adopt, celebrate Tamil New year, Padwa, Vishu, Baisakh…and on it goes. They’re all more or less the same time, but then you also have Holi, Labour day, Navaratri, Ramzan, Easter (Lent’s a great favourite! just make sure you keep going even after your 40-day stint!)…you get where this is going, right?
If you’d like to come up with a plan but need some help in terms of breaking down your goals and setting deadlines/making commitments, BATT and our counsellor friends would be happy to help! You can email us – confidentiality guaranteed – or even ask us on our Facebook post if you wouldn’t mind other people listening in!
All the very best to you for every resolution – however large or small, however important or trivial. And remember – don’t hide your failures and certainly share your success. We’ll keep you posted on X’s progress 😉