In my line of work, it’s a pretty bold claim: resolutions suck. It’s kind of an open secret that “New Year New Me” mentality is like the bread-and-butter of the health and wellness industry.

And, without mincing words, a lot of us went into 2020 with Big Resolutions that were shit-canned by mid-March, for obvious reasons. It’s really easy to feel, then, despite acquiring some skills like learning to bake perfect banana bread and dalgona coffee, like this year was a total write-off when it comes to resolution fulfillment.

But year after year, it’s true that more often than not, resolutions suck.

Why, though?

It’s not a bad thing to want to change, reprioritize, stop bad habits, to start new better ones.

Resolutions aren’t specific enough.

That’s it.

Okay, now let’s break it down. How often have you written out your resolutions list and included things like:

  • Read more
  • Get fit
  • Watch less TV
  • Eat healthy
  • Lose weight
  • Learn a new language
  • Meditate
  • Focus on my art

Etc., etc. …

And then you jump into it all first thing on New Year’s Day. You download a meditation app, a language app, a food tracking app. You join a gym and buy some new yoga pants and cross-trainers. You add a bunch of new books to your to-be-read pile. You stock up on kale and quinoa and figure you’ll find some good recipes somewhere. You dig your art supplies out of your closet and set them up on your freshly cleaned coffee table.

It starts off well. You’re logging into your apps every day. You go to the gym every day. You pick up a book and spend time drawing every day.

Then the first roadblock hits. Maybe it’s that holidays ended and you and your family had to go back to your regular schedules. You have to put off logging into the language app and working on your art for at least a few days as you readjust. You haven’t had a chance to find more recipes, so the kale wilts and you’re not sure you’ll have a chance to make something with it before the weekend. Laundry piles up and you’re out of clean workout gear, so you skip the gym for a day or two until you can get to it.

Before you know it, it’s been 6 weeks, and you’re back to your old habits like you never even tried all that other stuff in the first place. What was the point? You really wanted to do all those things, so why aren’t they happening?

Here are 4 most likely reasons your resolutions haven’t worked out – and how to turn that around going forward.

Stress

It’s easy to stick to a long list of resolutions when times are otherwise dull, but when things pick up again (like work, school, and other commitments), new stuff gets pushed aside. When stress hits, we will very often fall back on comfortable routines to keep things simple, and operate in auto-pilot… even though we know they’re also the routines that contribute to stress and being unhappy with how we go about existence.

Unrealistic

We go from 0 to 60 overnight on all of them, expecting to be awesome at them in a few weeks, and get upset or embarrassed when that doesn’t happen in the timeline we imagined.

Low Priority

We want the things to happen somehow, to work for us somehow, but haven’t actually done much to find a place for working on them in our everyday routines.

Lack of Clarity

We choose nebulous resolutions like “eat healthier” or “get fit” without a direction, without considering our starting point, or having a clear reason for why we even want that.

So What Can You Do About It?

It’s time to rewire your resolutions into sustainable lifestyle goals.

Disengage the Autopilot

Stress is a really hard one to get around most of the time. And especially these days, it’s just… always there, to some degree or another. So learning from that, that stress is always going to be around and flare up when we least expect it, what we can do is take back our guidance system from the autopilot.

This will take a bit of effort first to recognize when you’re turning that control over for autopilot to do what it does, and also looking to something else to actively defer to instead. Just shutting down the autopilot full-stop may work, and that’s great; but more often than not, having another directive in place to steer toward helps more firmly secure that rewiring so that the actions you do want come just as organically as the old ones. Some examples of what I mean here:

  • Noticing that you tend to order whatever’s fastest on UberEats automatically after a long day – and then actively deciding to look in the fridge and grab one of those containers you prepped on the weekend instead.
  • Noticing that you habitually pick up your phone 17 times a day to doomscroll – and then actively deciding to log out and pick up your pencils, ukulele, yarn, a book, etc. instead. (This is one I admittedly still really need to work on myself!)
  • Noticing that when you look at yourself in the mirror your eyes go to the parts you like the least and you start automatically running down what you wish were different – and then actively deciding to shut that down and list at least 3 things you like about your look today instead.

Get Real

This can be tricky as well, and sometimes might even sting to address. Get really up front with yourself about your starting point and where you think you want to be. Then, go into research mode, and look for advice from people who’ve done what you want to do to figure out how best you can go about it.

For example, I would love to run 5Ks again soon, but because of an injury last year that’s still affecting my left leg, I know I can’t just lace up my trainers tomorrow and just start running along to Couch-to-5K again.

Well… I could, but it might not be in my best interest to do for my own safety. (I would very likely trip over my own foot and faceplant pretty soon out the door.)

As much as it sucks, my current starting point won’t allow me to start the same way as someone without a bad leg in the same short 8-week timeframe.

So what I might do instead is work toward it as a longer term goal: utilize other methods to improve my cardiovascular endurance that don’t involve running (like elliptical, boxing, Pound, or plyometrics – all with careful attention to my range of motion), find or create workouts for strengthening my stabilizing muscles and regaining mobility, schedule those workouts into my week, and keep reviewing my recovery status every few weeks. My goal has shifted from simply “running a 5K again soon” to a more realistic and well-rounded short-term goal of first facilitating my overall recovery, so that maybe I can “run a 5K again eventually”.

Does it suck to know that I probably won’t be literally running a 5K again by March? Yes. It can sting to let go of some of these goals, even just “for now”. Acknowledge that pain; one of the many lessons I’m personally taking from 2020 is that it’s okay to grieve things that can’t happen for now.

But making more realistic goals based on our actual starting point is crucial to sticking to the steps required for getting real and satisfying results.

Reprioritize

Once you know what your goals are, make them priorities. Decide how important it is for you to achieve those goals, and work on not just squeezing in the things you need to do to get there around your other regular commitments, but also carving out the time for them, or even replacing other things with them (such as those autopilot functions you’re trying to disengage).

As another personal example, I’m an out-of-practice musician and I really want to bring the music back into my everyday life. So my goal is to do just that by making time to practice a couple of times a week.

Time blocking is one of my favourite methods for making sure I include time for the things I want to work on throughout the week. I personally use either a Best Self Journal or just the calendar app on my phone to plan out the day and the week(s) ahead.

How I get started: first, I put down my usual solid commitments, like work and appointments, and then I look for spaces where I could fit a workout or meal prepping, or in this case, practice time. Maybe there are big blocks of time – knowing I’ll otherwise spend them doomscrolling or watching Netflix – where it makes sense to Tetris in a block of piano or ukulele practice instead. Once they’re scheduled, I show up for those times like they’re “real” appointments. Because they are.

I’ve moved instrument practice up the priority list and started putting those times in along with my other commitments. Eventually I may even schedule other commitments around practice time (or similarly around meal prepping, or my workouts, etc.).

There are, of course, other factors to consider when reprioritizing and arranging your schedule accordingly, like (especially with my example) how it might affect others in your home. Priorities tie pretty closely with boundaries and communication, so let your family in on what your new priorities are, if you need help with making them happen, even delegate other tasks that you would otherwise do (and in my example, I’ll be making sure I don’t disturb my housemates’ sleep schedules by using the electric keyboard with earbuds, or just practicing when they’re awake and/or not home).

Making your goals and the work you need to do to reach them an actual scheduled priority in your day-to-day life will help bring those goals so much closer to fruition.

Clear as Crystal

This is the big one. I saved it for last here, but it should really be one of the first things you think about as you list your goals.

What’s your why?

Why are you doing this?

What do you hope will happen in your life when you achieve these resolutions? Can you envision that?

And from a slightly different angle, when making these resolutions, did you then make a plan to get there, or did it remain a generic “get fit”, “eat healthy”… with haphazard attempts to wedge something in to that effect?

Let’s compare and contrast the main examples I gave so far, with my real “whys” behind them:

Why did I want to be able to run 5K? Because I used to do them a few times a year; and as I reviewed my starting point, I realized: it’s not the 5K itself that’s important but what it represents: feeling fit, and being confident about that fact. Understanding this has helped uncover why I initially felt I wanted that, and why I want to work on the more realistic goal of well-rounded recovery for now instead.

Why do I want to practice instruments regularly? Because I achieved a high level of skill that’s been dormant a long time; I may want to teach again someday; but most importantly, it’s a way for me to express myself creatively, and I feel it’s a large part of who I am. This goal has great significance to me in feeling more connected to my creative side and is part of my identity, and with that clear in mind I can do what it takes to prioritize it going forward.

So… what’s your why?

Now, take your list of resolutions, revise them with these concepts in mind, and get really clear on why you want them. Then, you’ll turn them into badass goals. Make a plan to prioritize them, disengage from autopilot, and rock them in the New Year!

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