The new year can mean a lot of things. For many people, it’s a chance to make a resolution for the better. You’re going to quit or cut back on the things that are bad for you while focusing on the things that you know are good for you! Maybe you’re going to start eating healthier and spend more time in the gym. Or, you might have decided to work less while meditating more. Maybe you’ve promised yourself that you’re finally going to pursue that career you’ve always dreamed of!
How New Year’s Resolutions Fail
The only problem with new year’s resolutions is a thing we call reality. In fact, it’s estimated that over 80% of new year’s resolutions fail. It usually goes something like this. You tell yourself that you’re going to do something like exercising (just one example here). So, you go to the gym on Monday and you sign up for a new gym membership (fact: more gym memberships are sold in January as a result of new year resolutions than any other time of year). You start going to the gym every day of the week and taking weekends off. You feel great! Then you get a bit tired or life gets in the way and you miss a day or two. You tell yourself that you’ve been doing well and deserve a reward. You go back the next week and just don’t feel that same motivation. You’re tired. The holidays are over and work is piling up. Suddenly, doing your day job and working out take up too much or your time and leave you feeling too tired. You take “some time away” from the gym. Three months later and you haven’t been more than a few times. You want to cancel your membership but feel bad because you don’t want to feel as though you’ve failed or given up. Now six months later, you see your credit card statement and roll your eyes when that $50 bill comes in for the gym. You can’t keep paying for no reason so you go in and cancel the membership. Final result? You pay a few hundred dollars for just a few weeks and feel like you’ve failed. Or worse, many people say “well, I did the best I could but it just isn’t for me” and decide not to try again.
How Experts Keep Their New Year’s Resolutions
This isn’t just limited to New Year’s resolutions. It applies to any change you’re trying to make.
The example we looked at was related to exercising but your resolution can be anything. The basic story is that you get fired up, start doing something then take a bit of time off then a bit more, then you quit and feel relieved.
So what happens? What’s the problem and how do you fix it? Well, motivational speaker and performance expert Tony Robbins has written several best sellers on the general topic (click here for my favorite) he interviewed experts around the world to understand how they achieve their goals. The basic takeaway was this “MOVE THE TARGET CLOSER”.
What does that mean? Think about trying to shoot a bullseye from 50 feet away. You show up, you try, you fail and fail then you eventually quit. Here’s how to make it work though. Instead of trying to perfect hitting a bullseye from 50 feet away, you move the target closer to 10 feet. You practice again and again until you rarely ever miss. Then you move to 15 feet. Then 20 feet. Then 25 and so on and so forth.
Now think about this in terms of going to the gym, meditating, dieting or spending more time with family. Don’t go all out on day one and expect not to burn out. Think of the smallest step that you can take towards your goal. The smallest step that you can consistently stick to and do over and over until its clockwork. Maybe that means instead of radically changing your diet, you just skip dessert on the weekdays and keep doing that until it gets easy then add a new change. Instead of going to work out 5 days per week, maybe you just start going on longer walks every day and parking further away from the office in the morning. Then when you nail that and are consistent without it feeling like a burden, you start exercising at home once a week and keep moving up. The same thing would apply to meditate more. You’re not going to become a master in one day and 20 minutes 2x per day may be unrealistic. OK, start with 5 minutes in the morning then 5 minutes before bed. Then up it to 10. You get the idea.
By bringing the target closer, you’re able to fully achieve your goals which in turn motivates you and encourages you to continue because you feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only that, you get to reap the benefits of your actions without feeling like you’re being burdened or burning out. Instead of starting at a pace you can’t handle then tiring out, you gradually build yourself up. That’s how things work right? You don’t just enter a marathon and start running your hardest with no prior training and expect to finish. You build yourself up through conditioning and pace yourself.
Want to nail your New Year’s resolution and every other goal you set out to achieve? Bring the target closer so to speak. Find the small steps that you can take over and over until its habit then take the next step. Don’t worry about step 10. Master step 1 over and again then the results will take care of themselves.
Bonus points: If you’re up to it, I recommend reading a few books on the topic – here are some from Anthony Robbins. By reading through stories and methods, it ingrains the ideas of how to achieve your goals in your mind and reinforces a strong mindset. After all, your mind is what will drive all of your decisions, actions, and feelings towards a task so its always good to support your mindset.