By Margo Graf
My New Year’s resolutions are to learn Spanish, build strength through a regular yoga practice, become an adequate mandolin player, and receive a financial education that equips me to catapult my career. I have wanted these skills for a while now–and as I am going through a life transition–what better time to switch my focus? It will truly be the Roaring Twenties if I can pull off my grand resolutions. On the other hand, my resolutions could just become a train of wishful thinking that never blossom into anything fruitful.
Experts say there are several common pitfalls that keep people from achieving their New Year’s resolutions. Mostly, the reason for failure is that our goals are too broad or too many (i.e. see my first sentence). I know I have a huge and looming path before me, so I will have to break it down before I can put it all together. How can I do that? Basically, by cutting back and starting small.
“New Year’s resolution is kind of this buzzword that can make people crazy,” said Dr. Stephen Graef, a sports psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Most people have a toxic relationship with the term. So from the beginning we set ourselves up for failure because we know that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of people are going to ultimately get off their path of resolution.”
We are already aware that we are unlikely to stick to the resolution, or just not take it seriously. If you do want to change something, make sure it is a very specific, achievable goal. Nothing that is so daunting that it crushes any motivation that you have to work towards it. If you want to get in shape, aim for a specific target. Not just “I want to lose weight,” but “I want to lose five pounds by the end of the month. I will accomplish this by cutting out soda and snacking and adding a cardio exercise at least three times a week.” Create notifications in your calendar so that you are reminded of this commitment. Physically remove the soda and snack food from your reach, and voila! You have set yourself up for success. Five pounds is a very attainable weight loss goal, and once you have that victory under your belt, add another five and work step by step. The feeling of accomplishment will encourage you to keep striving for the next bit of progress.
Then there can be a snowball effect. Each small victory will add towards a greater end goal. I want to learn Spanish. An easy and fun way to start this journey is just by enjoying Taco Tuesday. If once a week I practice Spanish at my local Mexican restaurant, then I will certainly be improving my pronunciation while having a good time among friends.
I also want to start a financial education, so how can I take such a broad subject and put it into action? Well, I have ordered books and asked my friends who are well versed in business and finance to let me pick their brain. I will read one chapter a day, whether during lunch, waiting in line, before bed, during a commute, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to read or listen to a chapter of an audio book in the 24 hours that we have. We just have to make time for ten minutes of uninterrupted page turning–more than possible. Two books that friends have recommended, and that now sit on my desk, are “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki and “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham. This is the foundation upon which I will start my financial education journey.
Yes, I have a lot I want to accomplish in this short year. And I have to be honest with myself and know that they all will not magically come true. Life always tends to get busy in the blink of an eye. I also need to make sure that my motivation comes from within myself and not an outside pressure. Why do I want to start a yoga practice? To lose weight and look cute? Or to relieve stress and develop my spiritual fitness? Where does my motivation lie and how can I achieve something that does not come from my core? I cannot take each resolution on all at once, but I can start to make the little efforts that turn into routines.
Focusing on small, specific changes will add up to make a big difference. Accountability is crucial to success, so if you can set reminders, chart your progress, and have a buddy system in place, you will be much more likely to accomplish your resolution. The change might be slow, but the reward worthwhile.
Do not forget to forgive yourself also. It is okay to slip up. To speak English when you promised to only speak Spanish. To cave into the secret snack stash and treat yourself. It is vital to have self-compassion, acknowledge your slips, and move on. Similarly, celebrating successes, even the tiniest of ones, is important to keep you striving forward. Acknowledge that you had a really great day. Figure out ways to be joyful and congratulatory for when you are doing what you said you would.
May your Roaring (Two-Thousand) Twenties ring in with style, high energy, and a successful New Year.