Skip the New Year’s Resolutions
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Eight life coaches tell you what to do instead
Let’s be honest, New Year’s resolutions are usually just a way to set yourself up for disappointment. You look in the mirror after one too many holiday cookies and decide to look like Heidi Klum for swimsuit season, but by February you realize that the gym smells and it’s too cold to exercise outside. You are determined to eat healthier, but your kids ask for macaroni and cheese at least twice a week, and it’s just so easy . . . and delicious. You want to learn a new hobby, but the overwhelming responsibility that comes with being a single parent leaves you too exhausted to even decide which one you will enjoy. You resolve to quit smoking . . . OK, that one you should do.
The reality is that setting these large and often vague goals, especially when you feel you must instead of doing so because you feel ready to make some changes, leads you down a road to failure. But the idea of a “new year, new you,” as the expression goes, is appealing.
“Goals cause more problems than they solve for many reasons, whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or a target at work,” explains Alex MacLellan, of Practical Anxiety Solutions. “Most of the time, the outcome is completely out of our control. We can only control two things in life: our thoughts and our actions. Everything else is not up to us.”
So, what can you do if you want to implement positive changes into your personal and/or professional life but don’t want to fail? How can you improve yourself this coming year? I spoke to eight life coaches to answer those exact questions and give you some tips and tricks from those who have made it their profession to help others succeed. Below is what they said.
1. Focus on what you can control—your thoughts and actions. Instead of focusing on losing a certain amount of weight, work on eating healthier and exercising more. With this shift away from the result and onto your thoughts and actions, you’ll be more productive, have a better balance in life, and find failures less personal and more forgivable. You can achieve this by reminding yourself every day of where your influence ends, that challenges and setbacks are normal and to be expected, and that these things take time. Research has shown that it can take anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit, so don’t be hard on yourself if it seems to be taking longer than you thought.
—Alex MacLellan, Practical Anxiety Solutions
2. Stop setting goals for things; focus on the feelings. We make lists and goals and resolutions, but what we really want isn’t the thing itself, it’s the feeling we want to have when we attain these goals. For instance, let’s say you have a busy schedule from sunrise to sunset every day. You have to take care of the kids, the household chores, your job, the bills, etc. You feel overwhelmed, tired, and behind all the time. So, normally you might make a goal to “do less.” But what does that even mean? How do you actually do that? Well, you do some soul-searching to find a word that describes how you want to feel each day. Perhaps the feeling you want to feel is free? Imagine what that would feel like. And then, create your hours, days, and life around that feeling. When your boss asks you to stay late (yet again), or your best friend wants to come over and complain about her kids (yet again), ask yourself if doing those things will make you feel free. Will they get you to your happy place? If the answer is no, it’s time to set some boundaries. Success and peace don’t come from attaining things, they come from chasing a feeling you want to have.
—Lisa Baird Panos, life coach and author of Big Girl Pants: A Women’s Guide to Strutting Toward the Life She Craves
3. Begin with mental images, and keep imagining them until they feel real. Most likely, you already know what you want to achieve personally and professionally in the coming year, so the best way to make something come true is to engage your imagination. What do you want to see more of? Build up the mental images until they feel real, and you’ll start to make a plan to turn this image into reality.
How? Your mental images will become real when you can feel the sensations they cause. If running your hands along the desk in your new corner office is your dream, imagine the very act of sitting down, swiveling in the chair, and signing papers on the desk. Imagine what you’d wear and what you’d say. Your heart rate should speed up and goosebumps should appear on your arms. This act of vivid imagination takes the intangible and makes it real.
Brain scientists have shown us that our bodies cannot differentiate between physical and mental images and experiences. You will experience in real time whatever you physically go through and what you imagine. By feeling your imagination at a molecular level, you will in turn act as though your success story is true. How? Actions are driven by underlying beliefs and emotions. By believing and feeling your ideal world, your actions will begin to align themselves.
—Julia Katsivo, Focus Coaching
4. Create a word for the year. Find a word that gives meaning to your year. I started this process in 2016 with the word intentional. I had been living in the passenger’s seat for too long and needed to get back into the driver’s seat. But I also wanted to be sure that the decisions I made at each step were intentional, on purpose, and moving me forward. It worked like a charm. The past year my words were lean in and led with the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I lived my whole year taking risks and pushing past self-imposed boundaries only to find an amazing amount of clarity and confidence that I haven’t known in a long, long time. Even my most skeptical friends ask me how to do it and want help selecting their words because they’ve seen my results.
—Jo Self, Strengths Communication Expert
5. Self-care is important—without it you will not be successful or happy. Filling up your own love cup, as I like to say, is, in my opinion, essential for sustaining success and happiness. So often as women and moms we wear all the “hats” and can quickly become burnt out, overwhelmed, and, in some cases, resentful of all the responsibility we have on our plates day in and day out. Choosing to prioritize your own needs through self-care is a game changer. You will be healthier and happier, have more energy, and be in a great position—excelling in your career and caring for others. Follow this alignment activity to incorporate more self-care into your life:
- Step 1—For one week, keep a log of how you spend the hours in your day, from morning until night.
- Step 2—Take an honest look at how you spend your time. Is there room for self-care or more time to enjoy the simple pleasures that make you feel happy? Or is it all work and no play? It is easy to say, “Yes, but I just don’t have time.” I know because I used that excuse and really believed it for a long time until I decided to move self-care up on the priority list.
- Step 3—Schedule some self-care on your calendar. How you define self-care will vary, as your needs change from day to day. It could be regular exercise, time to read a book, coffee with a friend, or even some pamper time, such as a massage, facial, pedicure, etc. Giving back directly to the body is so important; it’s your vehicle in life and your clear communication with it is essential for health and happiness.
6. Get a vision board, and use it properly. Get yourself a high-quality vision board, and use it properly to make your goals and desires actually happen. Here’s how:
- Make sure your pictures are separated and don’t overlap.
- Write a word and/or phrase with your picture that describes what you want.
- Put your vision board just above eye level on your wall in a visible place (not hiding).
- Look at it morning and night, for at least three minutes, imagining and feeling what it would be like to have achieved that goal/desire.
- Give gratitude for what you already have in your life (including the things you’ve learned from negative experiences), and give gratitude for what’s on its way.
7. Focus on the present and the future, not on the past. Every day is a new day. You can’t live on yesterday’s success, nor can you get stuck on yesterday’s failures. The new year is an especially great time to reset. Make sure you have a plan. (If you don’t know where your aim is, you will miss every time.) To do so, you must first care for yourself before you can be of use to anyone else. Make sure you maintain healthy boundaries with your friends, family, and children, and at work. Spend at least an hour a day doing something for you, whether it’s reading, art, music, etc.
—Dr. Maritsa Yzaguirre-Kelley, professional coach and consultant
8. Act on your plans. If you have done lots of planning, now is the time to act. Planning is not going to work unless you take some action. You may not be able to act immediately, so you will need to break down your actions into simple substeps. But once a few substeps work, move to the next one, and, most important: never forget to celebrate your small wins. Once you are able to achieve a few substeps, your confidence will boost. Then, after you complete one action item, you can move to the next. To create anything incredible takes some time, the same way creating an extraordinary, amazing life will take some time.
—Omprakah Pal, life coach
As with any advice, it is important to remember that even when focusing on achievable changes, things may not always go as planned.
“Expect to fail a number of times, Katsivo advises. “We’re hardwired to live in our comfort zones and behaviors. Changing habits and behaviors, which goes hand in hand with seeing plans come to life, is a long-term goal. Focus on your incremental successes, even as you keep the goal in mind. It isn’t a race, and you don’t have to see it or get it immediately. In fact, your plan could take hold in a few months but require a few years to become second nature. Remember that to become someone or something that you’re not requires a journey to close the gap.”
Dayley believes that the decision to make changes happens for one or two reasons: desperation and/or inspiration. Find yours before you begin to make changes.
And, happy new year to you!
What are your resolutions?
ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, medical news, parenting, divorce, and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including Paste, Headspace, Folks, HealthDay, and more.
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