The time is upon us once more, a new year is here with a feeling of new beginnings for many.
The infamous new year, new me movement is currently invading your local gym and many people are taking these first few weeks of the year to ponder what our resolutions for the year ahead should be.
New year resolutions are an age old tradition within our society. They actually date back to 4,000 years ago as the ancient Babylonians are thought to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions.
If we were to unpack the purpose of resolutions, my simple take would be that these serve the purpose of the pursuit of betterment in one’s life in the next calendar year ahead. Of course this can be a great activity to partake in if done in a thoughtful and sustainable way.
This article hasn’t been written to knock resolutions or the pursuit of developing oneself, but rather provide an alternative method to support you in building realistic and sustainable changes in your life for the next 12 months ahead. I personally find traditional resolutions to be less than effective for many and I think we can all find examples of the same people who set the same resolutions each year and still feel no closer to those changes 10 years later.
What could we do instead?
A proposal that I’d like to ask you to think about, involves putting resolutions to one side and instead conducting a simple review and reflection of the year that’s been.
This is an activity that I’ve been doing over the last few years. Historically I’ve set goals for each year and broke those down into micro levels of what I needed to achieve by certain points of the year to fulfil those goals. However I found this approach to be cumbersome, stressful and often led to many of these goals rolling into the next year as I had set unrealistic time frames for some of these.
I made the decision to step away from using the beginning of each year to set out a list of new goals to try to achieve and instead pursued a new approach in using this time to reflect and review what has just passed. This allowed me to see a number of things including:
- What went well
- What I enjoyed
- Memorable events
- What I can work on in the year ahead
In taking the time to reflect and review these points, I’m able to identify the things that made me happy and went well (even those I didn’t expect would), which provides me with a sense of achievement and peace. It also allows me to identify the things that I would like to work on in the year ahead and break down the themes of what I want to work on into a top 3 that I wish to pursue over the year.
Of course these are not set in stone and they will probably evolve over the year in a few ways dependant on what life throws at me.
Personally I find this approach healthier and more meaningful in understanding not only what I wish to work on, but also what went really well in my life in the past 12 months. I feel we should all take time to appreciate our own successes and the things that make us happy and those habits, behaviours or activities that we can continue to implement which provide these outcomes.
This is my approach and I combine this with key questions that I regularly ask myself throughout the year to make sure that what I’m doing in life, is still what I value, want to do, making me happy and helping others in some way.
What you can do – a framework to develop sustainable habits, behaviours and change
Grab a piece of paper or open a word document, divide the page down the middle into two. Now title one side of the page – What went well? What did I enjoy? And title the other side as What can I work on?.
Now spend 30 minutes reviewing the last 12 months and placing the thoughts that come into your head in each column. Once you’ve completed this, make sure (and this is the really important bit) to read all of your responses in depth and really appreciate everything you’ve noted.
The final step is to look over your what can I work on column and then take the final part of your reflection session to produce the 3-5 top things you want to work on in the year ahead. Do remember these don’t need to be complicated, they could be as simple as I only read 10 books last year, so this year I want to read 15 or I want to increase my meditation sessions from twice a week, so maybe I’ll commit to 3 sessions a week and see how it goes.
A common hiccup
The central point here, is to appreciate your starting point and not understanding this is where many people fall on their face. A common example of this being when people want to improve their physical fitness.
Let’s say person x wishes to improve their physical fitness this year, great, so what do they do.
In my approach, you would review your starting point and what’s happened over the past 12 months. What physical activities have you been doing, how many times a week do you do these and do these supplement your lifestyle? These are important points to review before making plans for the next 12 months. You might then say, I already workout twice a week and I feel like I can add a 3rd session in which will bring more benefits to my lifestyle. Great, you’ve assessed your starting point, feel you can add a bit more in and believe this is a sustainable change.
Sadly and more often, this is not the approach many people take. They often come from a place of having no historical physical activity practice and then jump into a gruelling, body and mind crushing routine of hitting the gym 5-6 times a week. Generally this leads to said people running themselves into the ground with no energy and throwing out those resolutions by week 3 of the new year.
Instead of resolutions, why not consider a time of review, reflection and building sustainable habits, behaviours, routines and any changes with this activity.
I’m not saying it’s the one answer that will work for you, but I feel it’s an alternative and potentially more successful approach to making the changes you really want.
As always, leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter.
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