Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Really Work
How to Take the First Steps Toward ChangeWith Lauren Zander, Expert Life Coach and Chairman of The Handel Group
New Year’s resolutions are slightly out of favor — airily dismissed as a waste of time, given their high failure rate. But there remains something compelling about the onset of a brand new year for reflecting on changes that would improve your life. Still, local gyms are filled with well-intended, out-of-shape people in early January who nearly all go missing by early February, an interesting example of how challenging this whole resolution business is. To provide advice on ways to make resolutions that will actually come to fruition, I called regular Daily Health News contributor and life coach, Lauren Zander, founder of the Handel Group.
Lauren has lost none of her enthusiasm about the potential of New Year’s resolutions. She says that everyone has the capacity to make them a success. The way to start — preferably a number of days before the end of the year — is to think about the successful changes you have made in the past, perhaps relocating, getting a new job or patching up a failing relationship. By examining past achievements, you can unearth what in these experiences brought about success. Almost always it comes down to the fact that you made it happen because it was something you really, really wanted, says Lauren… and this is what you need to keep in mind as you prepare possible resolutions today. Don’t think about what you should do — plan instead to fill your list with what you really want — changes that give you a sense of excitement and wonder. Differentiate between a Should and a Wish, advises Lauren. “A should brings up a sense of dread while a wish is more like the feeling of, ‘wow, I wish I could have that… do you think I could?’ ”
WISHES FOR YOUR LISTTo start your list, note the important areas in your life — your health, body, relationships, family and finances, possibly home improvement, travel and the like. Jot down possible ideas for each of these areas, whatever strikes you as interesting, such as bringing more romance into your relationship, going on a far-away vacation, running a marathon or learning a new language. (Lauren recalls how her mother once resolved to have more parties and so she came up with a list of theme dinners — and hosted one each month.) It takes time and creativity to make such a list, so don’t rush it… just keep adding your thoughts as they come to you. Then on New Year’s Day you can sit with your ideas and determine which are most important and matter most to you. These are the ones you can think about achieving this year.
Review the finalists on your list by plotting out what it would take to make them successful. Consider selecting ones that are out of the ordinary for you, ideas that excite and please you, but also are attainable. For example, say you want to take a fabulous trip with your sister, maybe go to Fiji, but neither of you can afford it this year. You can scrap your idea completely or you can settle for something still exotic but closer to home, perhaps Puerto Rico or a Caribbean island. Or, Lauren says, you might put the trip on a future list but start planning on how to achieve it now… don’t let go of your big dreams.
THE DREADED “SHOULDS”Wishes are challenging but also fun. Shoulds, on the other hand, are really hard and not a lot of fun. Nevertheless, many people have a Should to resolve that crops up annually as the new year approaches. Lauren affirms how hard it is to break a bad habit (and aren’t they usually the basis of a Should?), while also pointing out that there are ways to greatly increase your chance of success for those challenges that you really should face.
First, acknowledge how attached you are to the bad habit and why you would really like to hold on to it, whether it is the pleasure of savoring a cigarette with coffee or drinking several glasses of wine in the evening to relax… or the instant gratification of snacking on cupcakes and ice cream… whatever it is. To confront the hold a bad habit has on you, you must admit how you really feel about it. Doing so makes it possible for you to face honestly what you are going to give up. The next step may sound odd, but it will change the paradigm you have about a bad habit, which is what it takes to open the door to success. Here it is: Turn your Should into a Wish by finding some aspect of your habit that makes the thought of continuing it intolerable. For instance, instead of considering cigarettes a treat that brings you pleasure, visualize them as sharp nails in your coffin. Lauren herself is a former smoker. Her definitive decision to quit came as she was rummaging in her purse for a cigarette and saw someone scavenging on the sidewalk reaching for a used butt. “I realized at that moment he and I were the same — losers — and it horrified me,” she recalls.
To heighten your chances of succeeding with your resolutions this year, be sure to tell lots of people what you are doing. You could even find someone with the same or similar resolutions to be a change-buddy with — you can support one another as you go through the process. But choose carefully — find people who have been successful at making change themselves. Like company will make you strong… similarly, pairing up with those who fail puts you at risk for failure.
Interestingly, the very act of deciding on a resolution and making it a priority increases the energy you bring to it, says Lauren. “Change isn’t that difficult,” she adds. “It takes effort, of course, but once you start making the effort, it stops feeling so hard.”