Only an estimated 8% of people actually accomplish their New Year’s resolutions. So this year let’s forget about New Year’s resolutions altogether and try some different approaches to New Year’s goal setting.
“What I’ve learned is that New Year’s resolutions really just set people up for failure,” says Michael Mitchell, a gay Washington DC-based life coach. “Most people don’t take them on as a larger plan for their lives. Too often it’s about chasing perfection in a way that’s really unhealthy for us.”
“Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose 15 pounds,'” Mitchell says, “What if we said, ‘I want to have a better self-image.’ What would that look like?”
So we’ve researched some methods that Mitchell and other effective life coaches use, and found three alternatives to New Year’s resolutions that’ll help you assess how you’re doing and guide you towards more meaningful living in the year ahead.
1. Bake yourself a life pie
When Mitchell first starts working with clients, he’ll ask them to list different areas of their lives — work, social life, family, finances, wellness, personal growth, etc. — and rate their satisfaction in each from a scale of one to 10. Doing so helps people take stock of their strengths and focus areas for the year ahead.
While you can rate numerous areas of your life, we suggest using this basic “life pie” below so you can visually see where things stand.
After you rate each area, spend some time thinking about what rating you’d like each one to be and what concrete steps you’d need to get there. Keeping these steps and ratings in mind (and posted where you can see them) can help you know when you’re moving in the right direction.
Keep in mind, the goal isn’t necessarily for all areas of your life to be a perfect 10, and what constitutes a perfect 10 is entirely up to you. For example, if you’re asexual, recently single or chronically boy-crazy, you might want want to de-prioritize your romantic life or focus on self-love instead of typical dating.
Also, it’s a good idea to make a second life pie at the end of March or June to see if your ratings have changed and why. Make sure to celebrate any positive change and to think critically about what might be blocking your way — a talk with an insightful friend can help you see what’s missing if you’re unsure.
2. Get attuned to your Core Desired Feelings
The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that you feel like a failure for not achieving them or else you accomplish them and then wonder, “Now what?”
Daniel Lim — the founder of Happy Academy, an inspirational training company in Asia — says that when we set New Year’s resolutions, it isn’t about the goals themselves but rather the feelings we expect once we achieve them. So this year, let’s cut out the middleman and concentrate directly on the feelings themselves.
Lim calls these our Core Desired Feelings (or CDFs). Let’s say, for example, that you want to feel brave, joyful and relaxed in the coming year — next, you’d want to think about what would make you feel more of all three.
Perhaps you’d decide that speaking your mind on challenging social topics, accepting invitations to strange events and being more honest with your friends would make you feel braver; maybe posting photos on Facebook about things you feel grateful for would make you feel more joyful; and it’s possible that meditating, trying to un-clench during tense times and light exercise would make you feel more relaxed.
Using these, you can monitor yourself day-to-day to see if you’re living up to my CDFs. This is especially helpful whenever you get busy or stressed because you can simply ask yourself, “Do I feel brave, joyful or relaxed? No? Why not? How can we help change that?”
Your CDFs can last as long as you need: a week, a month, a year. You can re-adjust them whenever you want. And by setting a general feeling rather than a concrete goal, your CDFs will work as a theme and perpetual direction to strive towards rather than a single goal you’ll either hit or miss.
3. Write yourself a letter from your future self
This New Year’s, get inside your mental time machine and travel to Jan. 1 of next year to write a letter praising your current self for having accomplished a big goal.
While this sounds identical to a resolution, we suggest having a little fun and being flexible or general with your goal: For example, you can make up an imaginary job title — like “Gayborhood Trans Expert,” “Instagram Artist Extraordinaire,” “Local Hiking Nut” or “Local Music Guru” — or set an enjoyable long-term goal like traveling or connecting more with family.
In your letter, praise yourself for achieving your accomplishment and then talk about the specific, concrete steps you took to do it. Also, have your future-self provide some wise, compassionate advice about things to do or avoid.
Kelly McGonigal PhD, a psychologist at Stanford University who has written several books on willpower and life change, said, “Research shows that connecting to your future self in this way can help you make a difficult change and succeed at your goals.”
You can keep the letter nearby to read whenever you need inspiration or even have a friend mail it to you a year from now. What’s most important is that you feel encouraged and empowered to do what you want, visualizing that a year from now, it’s already done.
Featured image by Martin Dimitrov via iStock