• Forget New Year’s resolutions! Six alternatives to create real change in the coming year

    December 28, 2016 | curtrosengren
  • new year's footsteps

    ‘Tis the season when our efforts to make positive change have the staying power of a snowflake on a hot griddle. Yep, time for another round of that tragically flawed positive aspiration we call the New Year’s resolution.

    But what if you tried something different this year?

    The wholesale change nature of making a New Year’s resolution might appeal to our penchant for immediate gratification, but if you want change that sticks, you’re much better off taking a different approach.

    Here are some alternatives to New Year’s resolutions that might actually open the door for change that stays with you.

    Make 12 New Month’s resolutions

    Instead of one big resolution at the start of the year, try making twelve monthly resolutions.

    That might be a series of resolutions that build towards a larger goal. For example, if you want to lose weight, your January resolution might be to exercise at least three times a week, your February resolution might be to continue exercising while cutting out sugar, and March might involve continuing to build on those while eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

    Or it might be a series of unrelated resolutions each month, giving you the stimulation of working towards something new. If even a percentage of those stick, you will have made more positive change than the average person who makes a resolution January first that fails by the end of the month.

    It might even be the same resolution each month. This gives you twelve opportunities to build on it, rather than limiting yourself to one big hurrah (and then likely fizzle) at the beginning of the year. If you are doing well with it, this gives you the opportunity to reward and reinforce your efforts. If you have fallen off track, it gives you the opportunity to get back up on the horse and start riding again.

    Make 52 New Week’s Resolutions

    You could do this in conjunction with the New Month’s resolutions idea (breaking those resolutions into weekly chunks that support them). This gives even more potential for frequent reinforcement, as well as smaller periods of time for you to wander off track.

    It’s also a great way to treat the coming year as a sampler platter for positive change. You can dip your toe in a wide variety of positive changes. When you find one that feels good, just keep doing it, while continuing to play with other weekly resolutions.

    Make 12 monthly experiments

    I am a huge fan of the 30-day experiment. Instead of gritting your teeth and resolving to make a permanent change, you simply say, “What would happen if I ____ for 30 days?” For example, what would happen if you:

    • Exercised 5 days a week?
    • Wrote a daily gratitude journal?
    • Told my partner something I appreciate about them every day?
    • Wrote down something new I appreciate about myself each day?
    • Stopped eating sugar?

    The thing I love about 30 day experiments is that they are big enough to notice their impact, but not so big that their sheer size makes it feel daunting to stick with it.

    Do 12 monthly stretches

    It’s all too easy to get caught in our comfort zones. Not only can that have a de-energizing effect, it also limits our potential.

    To bust out of the comfort zone trap, how about aiming for a monthly stretch? Do one thing each month that stretches you beyond what’s easy and comfortable.

    What constitutes a stretch is going to be different for everyone, but some examples might include:

    • Taking on a new project at work that takes you beyond what you know how to do.
    • Reaching out to connect with three new people each week (this is especially a stretch if you’re a little shy or introverted).
    • Starting a video podcast.
    • Organizing an event.

    Committing to twelve stretch activities over the next year has the potential to make a positive impact in your life in a way that one goal to improve on January 1st never could.

    Make process resolutions

    This one has less to do with the time of the resolutions than it does with the nature of them. Instead of setting a goal to, for example, lose weight (always a perennial resolution), you might look at steps and actions that would contribute to that. For example:

    • Exercise five times per week.
    • Limit my sugar intake to one candy bar per week.
    • Exercise with a friend at least two times per week.
    • Take a swing dance class.
    • Learn to make one new healthy dish each week.

    The basic idea is that when you focus on the process goals, the outcome goals take care of themselves. They’re the natural result of the process goals.

    Set a New Year’s theme

    Finally, if you absolutely must do something with a year-long flavor to it, try setting a New Year’s theme. Pick a topic that you want to be a focus for your year. For example:

    • Self-compassion
    • Making a difference
    • New professional skills
    • Relationship communication

    Once you have that theme, you can weave it throughout your year. There are a variety of ways to do that. For example:

    • Reading books on the topic.
    • Finding one new way to practice it, and mastering it.
    • Making a list of possible ways you can practice it and referring to it regularly (think of it as a grab bag you can pick from).
    • Checking in on a regular basis to see how it’s showing up in your life, where you’re doing well, and where you’re falling off track with it.

    This could easily be integrated with the other monthly or weekly approaches I outlined above.

    Many paths to change

    If you really want to make your life a better place to live, don’t cheat yourself by relying on the big bang of a New Year’s resolution. More often than not, that has a limited life span, and you’ll find yourself right back where you started next year.

    New Year’s resolutions have a spectacularly bad track record for most people. This year, why not try something a little different?

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