Every New Year’s Eve millions of us welcome in the new year, hopeful that it will be better than the last.
Many of us will add a string of resolutions to that hope, pledging to ourselves that next year “we’re going to do better and be better.”
We promise to lose weight, save money, work harder, watch less TV…the list goes on.
But within a couple of weeks more than 80% of us have already thrown in the towel and the guilt and shame that comes with quitting can knock our confidence and mental wellbeing for months to come.
There will be no “new year, new me” nonsense, here.
This is just one of the reasons that I despise the whole “new year, new me” narrative. I really feel like resolutions are a sort of socially acceptable form of self-sabotage and/or self-flagellation that we need to stop signing up to.
I also feel like they stagnate us in the final part of each year. We put off doing things until January as if it holds some sort of magic power that other months don’t.
I’m a lover of plans, routine and structure – they help me navigate my anxiety and direct my energy in healthier ways – but I honestly can’t think of one resolution I’ve stuck to.
So why do we quit almost as soon as we start?
It’s rarely due to one factor alone but I think it’s partly because starting the new year under pressure to change feels forced and overwhelming.
After the excess and highs (or maybe lows) of Christmas, the short dark days, the lack of twinkly lights, going back to work, the seemingly endless month whilst we wait for the first paycheck to hit our accounts feels like a lot…
We’re already testing our resolve just existing in January, adding more pressure in the form of ‘resolutions’ is a recipe for failure.
As if the bleakest part of winter wasn’t enough, we often choose goals that aren’t really ours. They are things we feel that we should be doing rather than things that we really want or need to do, so we don’t connect with them.
Even if they are ours they may well be too vague which makes them feel sprawling and as we don’t know what we are aiming at.
Conversely, they may be too detailed and we get sucked into the minutiae without seeing how they fit into the bigger picture…
With both, you can expect to feel overwhelmed and disengaged pretty blinkin’ quickly.
And of course, there is the lack of planning – Even if we figure out exactly what we want and even if we are clear as to why it’s so important to us, we often fall short of figuring out how we will make it happen.
Let’s take a simple (but common New Year example): “I’m going to be healthier and drink a super-micro-nutrient-dense-green-smoothie each morning.”
Now drinking the sludge may well add on an extra couple of mins to our morning, which we can anticipate but that’s only part of the puzzle in terms of making it happen.
You need to find a recipe that fits your ‘health needs’, know where and how to source any special supplements, budget for additional grocery costs and be sure you get to bed earlier so you can get up 45 minutes earlier than normal to prepare, drink and clean away the green concoction each day.
We often don’t plan for any of this stuff when we set out on our health kicks and before you know it we regret then forget the resolution in its entirety.
Does all this mean I think that we should abandon new year goal setting completely?
No, not at all. I totally believe in goals and intentions but see these as pretty different to resolutions.
Goals are positive – moving us towards ambitions or desires. Intentions are our plans and make it happen. But resolutions rarely fit into either of these and that’s why we fail.
One of the key ingredients for success when it comes to setting and achieving goals is to have a solid purpose for them.
We need a very clear, Simon-Sinek-esque “why.”
If you don’t have an inspiring, deep down reason to save £100 a month / say “no” to your boss / get healthy / stop swearing (this was mine and I have failed miserably several times) then you just won’t be motivated to make it happen.
I’ll drive some clients mad asking them why, why, why when they set out a goal. Like an inquisitive (and annoying) 4 year old I want them to connect to a real purpose, the benefits it will bring and the consequences if they don’t do it.
If we can’t see and feel the end results then it’s easy for us to back down, forget the whole thing and continue wasting money on novelty socks / working weekends / unhealthy habits / cursing like a sailor.
So how can we set goals that are right for us?
It sounds a bit “woo” but sitting down and imagining where you want to be and how you want to feel by a certain moment in time is an effective starting point – it has been really powerful for me and has proved to be the same for clients.
Painting a clear picture in our minds and tapping into the feelings that come with it helps us to really connect with it and keep us motivated.
Ask yourself what benefits that state will bring to you and those around you and focus on the impact that you want to have rather than the details (aka tactics) on how you will make it happen.
I really like to think of this as the “vision” for the year.
Break it down into chunky focus areas…
With the above in mind, write it all down in as much detail as you can. Then work backwards from there.
I don’t recommend planning out specific tasks, yet. Especially not for things that are more than a few months away. Life happens and having too many tiny things written down can be overwhelming and constrictive.
Plus there are many ways to achieve the same things, many we don’t know exist, yet. So why set rigid plans so far in advance? Instead, I suggest breaking it down into focus areas.
Let’s imagine we are thinking about the entire year ahead, I suggest picking one area per quarter to focus on – one for your professional life and one for your personal life, because we are after all human beings and we should not be solely defined by work.
I’ll give you a personal example from 2020:
- Q1: Nuts and bolts of my business, developing new processes and workflows. And for me, it was about adventure. I was in SE Asia and wanted to be sure I explored as much (if not more) than I worked.
- Q2 I was very much focused on bringing more value to my one to one coaching clients. For myself, it was about personal development and getting some new qualifications.
- Q3 Was about building out the corporate side of my business and testing out a long-held dream of running a B&B amongst vineyards. It was an itch that needed scratching although 2 businesses at once, during a pandemic was maybe a little too much (less learned for the future!).
- Q4 has been me pulling all that together and connecting with friends and family back in the UK after a long time overseas.
Break focus areas into manageable goals:
Ahead of each quarter sit down and think of all the different things you could do to help you feel like you have moved the dial in that focus area, keeping in mind where you want to be and, very importantly, how you want to feel by the end of the year.
After burning out I am very careful to build my wellbeing into the heart of all my goals. Incorporating feelings is essential if you want to look after yourself as a whole person and not just go after goals at all costs – that will only grind us down in the long term even though it may bring short term success/satisfaction.
Once you’ve done that brainstorming try and prioritise roughly 3 to 6 of them, considering which will have plenty of impact but also which you will enjoy.
There are loads of different models for prioritising, Google is your ally here just don’t get bogged down by all the information.
My advice is to keep it as simple as possible and listen to your gut.
Break these goals down into manageable tasks
Working backwards from the goals, breaking them into pieces that feel manageable and small enough to be understood on their own.
I generally don’t do this more than a month in advance because life!
If 2020 has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected.
That’s why having a goal to aim for but freedom to achieve it in whichever way is possible to us in the moment feels far more pragmatic, engaging and less overwhelming to me.
Try not to fill your time completely, things always come up or some days we just need to have a breather, work slower, or drop the ball all together to protect our wellbeing.
How do I know what to focus on?
Well you don’t, no definitively. Sorry!
As mentioned there are many ways to get the same end result. To help you decide you can align with your values (sign up to my memo to find out more about this), plot things around your existing skills or things you want to learn, or avoid things that you know you dislike immensely and suck your energy.
You can reflect on previous goals or projects and use what you learned there to shape your plans this time around…
The world is your oyster here and this post is already quite long but I’ll be happy to chat about it with you if you want to come up with a plan, you can book a free call here.
Just remember you are a human, you need to rest, you need wiggle room, especially if it’s all very new as it will nearly always take longer than we expect the first few times we do something.
Other than that go with your gut. It’s a lot bloody smarter than we give it credit for.
And finally, be sure to celebrate your progress!
I go on about celebrating ourselves and our progress a fair bit over on Instagram. But that’s’ because it is so important for our motivation.
Acknowledging and celebrating helps tell our brains (which, let’s be honest, often get filled with impostery self-sabotaging brain farts when we are trying to do something big, new or a little bit scary) that we are doing well, progressing and getting closer to our goals.
Celebrating can literally train our brain to focus, keep going and let it know that you are and will continue to be successful.
So, in summary…
- Think about what you really want to achieve and WHY it’s important to you. Tap into how it will feel, the impact it will have and the consequences of not doing it. Write it down, this is your vision.
- Work backwards from your vision for the year and create focus areas for each quarter – be sure that it’s not all about work, you need to do things that nurture your well being alongside it.
- Break the focus area into 3 to 6 goals per quarter (do this just before the start of the three month period so you don’t get bogged down in details too far in advance)
- Then turn these goals into bite-sized tasks that you can work through on a weekly/daily basis as move through the quarter.
- Finally, acknowledge and celebrate yourself and your progress…routinely, without guilt, shame or shyness!
Bonus, share all this with someone who can help you as you go. “Help” could be in the form of encouragement, accountability and celebration or rolling their sleeves up alongside you to make it happen.
In the next “Things That Help” memo I will be sharing tools to help you get clear on your goals so you can start 2021 with clarity over what you want and a simple plan to help you make it happen on your terms, with your wellbeing at the very heart of it.
This is an adaptation of a blog post that I wrote for Herz Collective earlier this year.