Each year, forty percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions—and eighty percent of resolvers break their resolutions. You may be among those who have never kept a January 1 promise this far into the year—or who have given up the whole idea.
The main problem is that New Year’s resolutions only “work” when we do. Otherwise, we’re invariably disappointed in hopes of finding benefit without cost, reward without effort, and fulfillment without discomfort.
This isn’t to say that everyone who breaks resolutions is inherently lazy, just that the resolve wears off as the newness does. Back in “regular” life with its same old responsibilities and temptations, the same old coping strategies reassert themselves. Resolutions made in the rush of holiday giddiness are only the flip side of vowing “this time I’m going to quit drinking for good” in the misery of yet another hangover.
Just as a person can enter (or return to) rehab in any month, resolutions to develop other new habits don’t have to wait for December–January. But whenever you make a major decision, you’ll have an easier time sticking to it if you keep a sense of newness in the long-term day-by-day.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Resolve is strongest when life as a whole feels new. Seek out special and unique moments in “ordinary” days. Get a pocket notebook and challenge yourself to write down at least one thing an hour you are grateful to have in that moment; keep that up for a week without repeating anything word for word. Find new beauties in the sunrise, the mockingbird’s song, the smell of fresh coffee, and the views during your commute.
If you forget an hour or two of entries, don’t kick yourself for it—just pick up again as soon as you remember. And don’t worry about how long or detailed the list “should” be, or whether something is “important” enough to be added. Anything is valuable that keeps your appreciation of life fresh.
Practice Morning Mantras
If your first thought most mornings is, “Do I have to get up?” you’ve let your instinct for embracing newness become dulled. In your mind, a typical day is all monotony interspersed with rush—nothing to look forward to.
Your attitude first thing in the morning often determines your attitude for the day. Before going to sleep each night, tell your brain the first thing you want it to think about upon awakening—something that helps you associate a new day with new blessings, new opportunities, and new beginnings. If your concept of a Higher Power is consistent with the Judeo-Christian God, Lamentations 3:22–23 on blessings “new every morning” is a classic. Or you could use an idea from your gratitude journal, or just say “This will be a wonderful day full of new opportunities.”
It’s best to recite your mantra aloud immediately upon waking; but if it only comes to mind later, even when you’re halfway to work, do it right then rather than telling yourself you’ve “already blown it.” In time, remembering first thing will become automatic.
Give Your Resolutions the Status of Goals
A specific, measurable, and well-planned resolution is more than a good idea; it’s a solid goal that reinforces the “new” element via stage-by-stage scheduling and celebration of milestones attained. Instead of simply resolving to “lose weight,” phrase it as “I will reach the recommended weight range for my age and height by June 30.” (Always include a “completion date,” plus monthly “stage-of-progress dates”; this reduces procrastination. But leave wiggle room lest you give up completely at the first unforeseen setback.)
Also, make a next-step resolution after achieving each goal; life has only one endpoint, and every preceding stage should include some element of new progress. Attaining your weight-loss goal will be a temporary victory without a long-term plan for staying healthy.
Keep Your Goals Visible
Goals written down stand the best chance of becoming goals achieved, but not when shoved into the back of a drawer. Even written resolutions stationed in plain sight can become “invisible” after a while, so keep that “new” feeling by moving lists and vision boards to new physical locations every couple of weeks. Set your e-calendar to pop up reminders at varying times. Ask a friend to call when least expected and ask how you’re doing with your resolutions.
Having a friend check with you also works when done at regularly scheduled times, as anyone active in sobriety support knows. Active accountability is among the best weapons against procrastination. If you have several interested friends, you can form a “goals group” for support; in any case, help keep “newness” alive by meeting your accountability partner(s) face to face at least once a month.
Besides reducing your risk of procrastinating or quitting, accountability buddies keep you from going to the opposite extreme and being too demanding of yourself. Outside input helps minimize discouragement by telling you when your expectations are unreasonable or you’re making more progress than you think. And by helping your buddies stick to their resolutions, you’ll be giving as well as taking—another secret to keeping life fresh and rewarding.
Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy!
Ultimately, most failures to make lasting change are rooted in fear the benefits will never compensate for the sacrifices. If you’ve completed addiction rehab, you probably worried that your life would become permanently bleak without that chemical-rush pleasure. Perhaps you even reacted to the assurance “You’ll live longer” with “Or will it just seem longer?”
Assuming you had effective counseling and support, you soon learned that the answer was to get more purpose into your plans and more fun into your routines. A life centered on chemical relief is indeed miserable, but a life centered on “everything everyone else expects” is only marginally better. We all thrive best—and find the most newness—when life is dedicated to making our personal best contributions and enjoying wholesome activities that suit our personal tastes.
So set your goals according to dreams you’d genuinely enjoy living within the long run. Celebrate the attainment of each step with a favorite activity. Find pleasure in doing as well as in achieving.
Life really is new every morning—every hour, in fact. Don’t wait until traditional “resolution time” to embrace new opportunities!