If you're like most of us, you've had the experience of making resolutions only to give up in frustration and self-disgust within a few weeks. You may feel like giving up already, and it's only January 5!
The truth is, most New Year's resolutions fail. Not because we're not good enough, or we don't try hard enough. But because what we're trying to do is HARD. If it were easy, it wouldn't take a New Years Resolution!
The second reason we don't make progress on our resolutions is that most resolutions are a wish, not a plan. To accomplish anything hard, we need to break it into small chunks--a step-by-step plan--and support ourselves to accomplish each step. Then, we need to keep revising our plan to accommodate reality when we hit a wall.
The third reason that resolutions wither without bearing fruit is that we don't give ourselves enough support. We don't ask for help. We never really commit ourselves aloud and in public, which means our resolution never gets the chance to grow roots, much less flower.
So the bad news is that resolutions are not enough. Intention is only the first step. But that doesn't mean we should just give up and treat the whole idea of New Years Resolutions as a bad joke. While we can create change at any time, there's something about the symbolic fresh start of the new year that does give us a little extra momentum.
The good news is that there are a few lucky folks who actually make their New Year's resolutions come true. What can we learn from them?
1. Start by supporting yourself.
Seeds don't germinate on concrete. Flowers bloom when we support their growth by cultivating the soil. So for instance if your plan is to stop yelling, your first steps might be getting enough sleep, monitoring your own moods, and cutting out some of the stress in your life. Notice how your child acts better when he gets his needs met? You're the same way. Intention will only take you so far. You have to address the needs and feelings that drive your behavior.
2. Pick one thing.
So you want to stop yelling at your kids, get more fit, and and do more self-care? That's wonderful! But you can't do everything at once. Pick one change that feels do-able and commit to that as Step One. Maybe something like better self-care, which will help you stay better regulated emotionally, so you'll be more emotionally generous in all your relationships. Make a specific self-care goal with a step by step plan, and hold yourself accountable to do it. Then put your other goals on your calendar as next steps to review in a month.
3. Hone your desire.
Why do you want this goal? What will be different in your life once you achieve it? Picture what your life will look like, to whet your appetite and program your subconscious. Fierce desire + Intention = the Seed of your Resolution. Without that seed, nothing grows.
4. Commit yourself – on paper, and in public.
Once we set an intention, the universe lines up to support us. We marshal resources we never even suspected we had available, from both inside and out. So be brave and go public--tell your family your intention.
It also helps to write your intention down and put it in your pocket: "I am more and more able to regulate my own emotions." Really! Research shows that thoughts we write down and "carry with us" are more likely to blossom.
Have something you want to get rid of? The same research shows that when you write something down ("Yelling and threats!") and throw it in the garbage, you lessen its hold on you.
5. Make a plan.
The only way anyone ever met a goal was by breaking it into little pieces and completing one day at a time. How will you support yourself to accomplish your resolution? What will you actually do to achieve your goal? Write it down. If your plan is to stop yelling, for instance, how can you give yourself daily support to stay on track? What will you do in the moment when you start to lose it? How will you measure your success?
(Want more support? My Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Online Course gives you intensive daily support to regulate your emotions, connect with your child, and set limits without yelling, threats, bribes or punishment.)
6. Take one small step every day.
Assign yourself a very reasonable task for each day, with one day every week free, for catch-up or time off. It might be the same task every day: “When you notice you're getting irritated, STOP, DROP (your agenda) and BREATHE!" or "Get up ten minutes earlier to listen to a meditation audio.”
Or maybe you need to begin with something even more foundational: "Go to bed half an hour earlier every night."
Put your daily tasks on your calendar. Make a chart to check off your daily progress, and put it up in a public place. Let your kids give you a gold star on those days you don't yell. Every day you stick to your plan, you make the next day easier.
7. Take it one day at a time.
One year equals 365 opportunities to get yourself back on track! Every day when you wake up, you'll need to re-commit yourself. Big changes are daunting. If change were easy, you'd already be doing it.
So focus on today, right now. You have a choice between love and something else -- fear, or being right, or indulging in a tantrum. Choose love. Then, repeat. Over and over again, all day long.
It's really hard, but it gets easier. You can do anything for an hour. From there, it isn't such a big stretch to go a whole afternoon. Before you know it, you've clocked a day, and then a week, of your new life.
8. Make it a habit
Most resolutions get derailed because they aren’t sustained for long enough to create a new habit. Habits need to be repeated daily for at least 30 days to become entrenched. If you want to rewire your brain to stop yelling, it usually takes about three months. Check in every day and take a positive action towards your goal. Think of this as watering your Resolution. Don’t lose heart if your Resolution isn’t flowering during the first month. You should be able to see those shoots poking up, and maybe some buds forming. In other words, celebrate every bit of progress in the right direction.
9. What about those days when you blow it?
Of course those days will happen! Forgive yourself in advance. Make a plan now so you can get back on track in those tough moments. Remember that if you learn from those times when you fall short, it's not a total loss. In fact, if it keeps you on track in the future, it's a win.
So instead of beating yourself up, use those moments as an opportunity to ask yourself two questions:
- What would have helped me today to keep my resolution?
- How can I give myself that support from now on?
For instance, if your intention is to stop yelling at your child, and you notice you're always impatient at bedtime, then rethink your evening routine. This is creating the nourishing conditions that your resolution needs to blossom.
10. Review and Revise.
Revise your plan as necessary. For instance, if you're trying to stop yelling, you'll find that most of the time you're already yelling before you even notice. For now, maybe your goal could be to shut your mouth as soon as you realize you're yelling. Over time, you'll be able to notice sooner and close your mouth faster. Then, you'll become aware of your anger mounting before you open your mouth, and maybe even as you start building up an attitude of annoyance.
Check your plan every single day. Give yourself lavish positive reinforcement for every day that you take a step forward – which should be often, since you're tackling just one small task each day. Cheer yourself on at every step.
Not working? Maybe you need some sunshine and fertilizer (in other words, self love!). Remember, your behavior is driven by your own needs and feelings. Address them and you'll see your behavior change. Self-care is essential to positive parenting. Find whatever support you need to help you make your intention a reality.
There's no deadline. The important thing is that you're headed in the right direction. Even two steps forward, one step back will get you where you’re going. Any goal worth achieving takes time and hard work. Sometimes the impossible just takes a little longer. I'll be here cheering you on every step of the way.
Want to support yourself for real change? You still have time to register for the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Online Course that begins soon. Gift your whole family a better new year. Take a look at the raves from parents who've taken it to see if this self-paced course might be a good fit for you.
"The moment one commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred...Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Begin it now." - Goethe