By Jonathan Decker, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
There are countless stories and jokes about abandoned New Year’s resolutions, perhaps because the experience is so universal. When it comes to self-improvement, it seems that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” So how do we overcome weakness to fulfill our goals? Allow me to share with you five keys which have helped my clients, myself, and others, to follow through. (“Writing down your goals” is a given, so you won’t see it below).
Be realistic– It’s fine to have big dreams, but gauge how much work it will take and ask yourself if you’re really willing to do it. Anything else is wishful thinking. Limiting junk food is more realistic than completely swearing it off. Committing to spend at least 10 minutes reading to your children daily may be more realistic than committing to reading with them for an hour.
Report and Support– Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a coworker, a spouse, a bishop, a therapist, or your kids, make someone aware of your goals and report to them regularly. You’re more likely to follow through if you have someone to report to and gain support from.
Plan the “How” –Many resolutions fall apart because people haven’t thought through the details. Ask yourself “what could go wrong?,” list your answers, and figure out how to deal with each before they come up. If you simply say “I’ll go to the gym five times a week,” for example, you likely won’t. However, if you say”I’m going to limit evening TV time on weeknights, so that I can go to bed by 10:00 p.m, so that I can get up at 6:00 a.m. to go to the gym,” then you’re much more likely to be successful.
Learn from Failure –Remember Churchill’s famous advice: “Never, never, never, never give up!” Part of succeeding is learning from your mistakes. If an unforeseen weakness or circumstance keeps you from meeting your goal on some day or another, adapt your plan so that you can overcome.
Find a Reason “To Do” Instead of “Not To Do”– We are masters at procrastination and excuse-making.. We find reasons to talk ourselves out of things. We rationalize by saying “I’ll start eating healthy next week.” “I’m too tired to exercise. I’ll do it tomorrow” “I need to call my lonely family member, but today I’m just too busy.” For this reason, I tell my clients “You can always find a reason not to do something. When that happens, give yourself a reason to do it.”
Try to omit excuses from your life. As fictional boxer Rocky Balboa told his son: “If you know what you’re worth, then go and get what you’re worth. But you’ve got to be willing to take the hits, not pointing a finger and saying you’re not where you want to be because of him, her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”