Well, here we are. The final days of 2016. Whether it has been a year to remember or a year you cannot wait to see from your rearview mirror, we are about to flip a page. 2017 is upon us. With a new year comes a natural impulse to look ahead. It’s a time of possibility and often a space where we reflect on how we can live into our best selves in the year ahead.
Enter the good ‘ole fashioned new year’s resolution. The things that you are ready to do differently this time. But did you know that resolutions have very little sticking power? One of the biggest reasons for this is that popular resolutions (e.g. lose weight; get organized; spend less and save more) tend to be overly ambitious and non-specific. And they are focused on changing a behavior or set of behaviors – rather than the values that motivate those behaviors in the first place.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve set my own share of resolutions and if that’s your jam – and it’s working – more power to you. (Send me your secrets, please!) But for the rest of us, I want to offer three different options for how you might use the natural momentum for change that occurs at this time of year in a different way. Instead of setting a resolution, you might instead try setting a goal, an intention, or a theme.
Set SMART Goals
Goals are a close cousin of resolutions. But where New Year’s resolutions can get lost in their grand – and often ambiguous – desire for massive change, goals are grounded in specifics. One great framework for making sure this is the case is to set a SMART goal. SMART goals give us the following checks to make sure we are setting a goal that we can move towards.
S – specific, significant, stretching
M – measurable, meaningful, motivational
A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
T – time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable
A popular resolution like “lose weight” doesn’t translate as a smart goal. We might instead say, “I’d like to lose 50 pounds.” That’s specific and measurable, but it may not be achievable/action-oriented or realistic and it’s definitely not time bound. SMART goals look something more like this: “I’d like to lose 20 pounds in the first half of 2017 by tracking what I eat and committing to cardio exercise 2-3 times a week.” Or: “I will bring greater organization to my life by holding a family meeting with my partner each Sunday to set our joint priorities for the week, pay any outstanding bills, RSVP to any commitments, and make sure we have thought through the logistics of honoring each known commitment in the coming 3 weeks.”
The power of setting a SMART goal is that it forces us to get deeper on not just what we want, but how we envision getting there. This simple act focuses us in on smaller actions we can take each day to move us toward our bigger objective.
If you are motivated by goals and find yourself successfully able to manage a goal from idea to execution, SMART goals may be the ideal approach for you.
For those of you who find goals restrictive or notice that even when you set a clear goal you run into internal resistance when it comes to follow through, I’d recommend one of our latter approaches.
Create New Year’s Intentions
What do you notice is different about the language of “intention” over “resolution” or “goal”? What I so appreciate about setting an intention is that it feels more organic and fluid. Less of something to drive towards and more of a way of being.
An intention offers an aim or a plan, but it is less strict or regimented on how you get there. It gives direction and in that sense can motivate your everyday choices. Intentions help keep us focused in the present and bring us back to what is motivating our actions.
One friend set a new year’s intention a few year’s ago to “choose ease.” This was a person who recognized that she had been stuck in a habit of choosing perfection – always looking for what was best, regardless of what it took to get there. The intention to choose ease became a factor in all of her decisions. So when she arrived home at 9pm after a 16 hour day at work, exhausted and starving, she would look in her pantry and hold the intention to “choose ease.”
Sure, she could make spaghetti sauce from scratch or she could open up the can of prepared sauce. Or she could forgo sauce altogether (and it’s accompanying prep dishes) and enjoy her spaghetti with a little butter and cheese. Having the intention to “choose ease” motivates the path selected – and puts the decision maker in a place of conscious choice in the first place. A person with a different intention – say “feel whole” or “follow my curiosity” – could meet those same set of circumstances and find themselves motivated to make a different decision.
You may be thinking, aren’t some of those intentions just as ambiguous as the resolutions we talked about earlier? An astute observation. Here is what is different. A resolution tends to carry with it a weight of expectation and drive towards your end objective. The lack of clarity on what the end point is can create feelings of anxiety or impossibility that leave the resolution maker feeling unable to act – thus the resolution gets abandoned. An intention has a very different flavor. There tends to be less pressure and more choice. By staying focused in the here and now, it allows it’s holder to make conscious decisions each day which empowers the this person’s actions.
An intention is free of burden and filled instead with choice – this is its great gift.
Pick a Theme for 2017
I myself love a good goal and intention, but will admit that the New Year’s Theme is where I am focused in 2017. Setting a theme is like creating a mood board for a new design or sketching out areas for exploration for your latest novel. Setting a New Year’s theme gives you focus for what your year will be about.
There are a lot of ways you can go about doing this. You might pick a word or phrase that sets the tone for how you’d like to move through the coming year. Laugh Out Loud. Breath Easy. Charmed Life. Rising Strong (for the Brene Brown lovers!). Let your imagination have fun as you discover the theme that feels right for you.
My own theme in 2017 is “let rest.” I have a natural tendency to push for action and results, which – like many preferences – has its gifts and its shadows. As I move into a year that will begin with the final weeks of my third pregnancy and then shift into the beautiful months of newborn haze, I feel moved to embrace calm and peace. “Let rest” for me will help me to do that. I appreciate that a theme like this – versus a resolution or a goal – doesn’t dictate a plan. Plans come easily for me; letting things unfold in their own way and time is a greater place of learning. I am personally excited to see where this theme will take me.
Whether you stick with a resolution or experiment with goals, intentions, or themes, I am wishing each of you a beautiful close to 2016 and start to the new year. May it be filled with just what you are wishing for and a few pleasant surprises as well.