Forget your resolutions

“For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice.” ― T.S. Eliot

Did you make any New Year's resolutions this year? The best thing you can do is forget them. Before you do, though, use them to give you something more lasting and more meaningful.

The turn of the year is an effective time to begin a new habit. The changing of the year gives it additional meaning, and therefore makes it more likely to stick. New Year isn't unique in this. You can use birthdays, seasons, festivals or anything else that has resonance for you.

Even with this support, the majority of people do not stick to their New Year's Resolutions. Most fade out within a few months, leaving little lasting change. This isn't a moral failing. It's that resolutions are not an effective way to improve your life.

Resolutions come from a place of "should". We choose resolutions because they will make us a "better" person in some way. The trouble is we need fewer "shoulds" in our lives, not more of them. "Shoulds" sap energy and distract us from being present to the joy and opportunity all around us. They make us feel guilty and undermine our confidence. Over time this eats away at our motivation until we stop doing whatever it is we resolved to do.

Intentions not resolutions

Instead of adding another "should" to the pile, try this approach instead. Take the turning of the year as a chance for reflection. Use what you find to give you more energy and more lasting change. Dig into your resolutions to find what you're really after.

  1. Get clear on your intention. What is the underlying reason you chose your resolutions? Go as deep as you can. Pretend to be a three-year old; each time you get an answer, ask "why?" again. Once you've done this five times, you're in about the right place.

  2. Pick out the right kind of intention. Perhaps you have multiple resolutions, or you find in step one there are more than one entangled intentions. Look for a single intention that you find personally rewarding. Look for something which, if you think about it, gives you a warm glow.

  3. Decide on a small, intentional step in that direction. What is the smallest, simplest thing you can do to support that intention? Don't worry about anything bigger for now, just focus on that.

  4. Create the environment to support that intention. What will make it as easy as possible for you to take that small step towards your intention? What will make it more fun? Don't be afraid to ask for help, or create support around you.

  5. Experiment with different approaches. How well did what you tried support your intention? Does it need tweaking, or would you be happier trying something else? Change what doesn't meet your needs.

Running from intention to action

I'm a recently-converted runner so I'm going to use that as an example. It's a popular choice for the New Year, too. We'll take the resolution "to go run a mile at least three times a week" as an example. It's a SMART goal for someone moderately fit. SMART resolutions are your best bet for traditional resolution setting.

First, let's look at the intention behind the resolution. Is it to get fitter or have fun? Is it to lose weight or increase performance? Is there a specific health issue you're addressing?

Underneath all that for me was the intention to be functionally fit. It's about feeling good and being able to do everything I want to do. Those are both things I find intrinsically rewarding. Running seems like a pretty good place to start, but it's always good to do a little research first.

Look again at the intention. How does running support my functional fitness? If so, what kind of running is best? How do I approach running so that I both enjoy myself and get fitter? Being outdoors in nature is a big part of this for me, so I choose routes by the sea or in the woods.

Making it easy means getting the basic kit I need to run in most weather, and to make sure it's clean and stored together so I can grab it. It also means moving some tasks around so I can run in the morning when it's light and I have the most energy.

I've been running for a few months now, and I'm starting to think of some different routes. I'm also considering signing up for some more sociable runs. I've been thinking about doing other kinds of exercise which also support my original intention, too.

Resolve to change

Genuine, sustainable change comes getting clear about what you need and finding a straightforward way to meet that need. By looking into your reasons for choosing resolutions you will get closer to a clear understanding of your own needs. By stripping away all of the extra baggage that comes along with the "shoulds", you will have more energy to spend on getting to where you want to be this year.

If you've ever been unhappy with yourself for failing to stick to resolutions before, give this method a try instead. Let me know how you get on in the comments. Good luck!