It’s my favorite time of year again – resolution time! I can’t understand people who say they “don’t do resolutions.” In my opinion, they’re passing up a huge opportunity to hone their focus and create a better future for themselves.
I do, however, understand that the once-a-year resolution hoopla can feel like a tired exercise in futility, but I’ve created some guidelines to help you avoid all of that. Here’s Part One of my three-part guide to creating resolutions that you’ll be able to stick to, and that really can make your life better.
Step One: Ask Yourself These 5 Questions
There’s one big mistake most people make when they set their resolutions, and it goes something like this: They close their eyes and dream up a utopian image of their future life, cherry pick certain aspects from that dream life, and then set those desired outcomes as their goals. These mental images are almost never realistic, nor do they represent what’s really important to us. In order to find out what is important, I’ve developed this list of five crucial questions to ask yourself:
1. What is important to me? Think about this question from a broad, lifetime perspective and make your answers genuine. Some examples might include: “My health; my relationship with my spouse; my relationships with others; helping people; my career.” After you have a complete list, rank order it.
2. What do I enjoy? Don’t answer this questions too quickly with the first things that pop into your head. Instead, take a moment to scan your memory and try to recall those instances in the past few years when you have experienced real joy. Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? The more specific you can be, the better. When I answered this question for myself, “exercising or being active” barely made it onto the list. This was revelatory for me, since I spend a lot of time thinking about or doing that, but much less time doing the things that ranked higher on my list.
3. What do I want more of? Now that you know what’s important and what you enjoy, list those things you want more of in the days and weeks ahead. Some examples might include: “More energy; more quality time with my family; more time out in nature; more time with my friends; more money in my savings account.” Now rank order your list with what you want the most of at the top.
4. What do I want less of? Next, think about how you currently spend your time and list those things that ping low on the joy meter. These can include habits, emotions, people, food or beverage – anything that leaves you feeling sad, mad, tired, anxious, or guilty. Again, be specific and rank order your list.
5. What daily habits will support these things? Here’s where you’ll create the list that will eventually become your resolutions or goals. Circle the top one or two entries from each of the previous four questions. Then brainstorm a list of what daily habits or actions you can do that will make those things more likely (or in the case of question #4, less likely). This should be a long list, because there are likely several actions for each of those items. For example, if you listed “My Health” as being very important to you, then your list of actions relating to that item might include: “Daily exercise; healthy eating; limiting alcohol; reducing stress; getting adequate rest…”
What you should be left with at the end of today’s exercise is a better sense of what’s important to you and a long list of actions you can take to help bring more of that into your life. This is where a lot of people throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do all of that, so I might as well not try. This is why I hate resolutions!” But don’t worry – tomorrow, in Step Two, I’ll show you how to carefully narrow down your long list and select just those few habits that will have the greatest impact. On New Year’s Day, I’ll wrap the series up with tips on how to successfully implement those habits and create positive change.
I want to leave you with one final note today: It’s crucial that you answer the above questions honestly, and not the way that you think you should answer them. If money or your career or physical appearance are at the top of your list of what’s important to you, there is nothing wrong with that! You are a unique individual and this exercise is intended to make your life better. If that also happens to positively touch those around you, so much the better, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus.