We tell ourselves, “this is the year I am going to exercise every day, no matter what.”
We even go as far as signing up for a year-long gym membership – believing that the year-long commitment will help keep us accountable.
Only to give up on our resolution sometime in mid-February! The monthly fee then becomes a drag on our financial goals. It’s like a vicious cycle.
I have done this exact thing. Although, I think I did make it to the end of February before quitting the gym membership I signed up for – like that’s much better, right?
This is why so many people decide not to do resolutions – and why they don’t take others seriously when they hear about theirs.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work?
When we set a resolution, it is very common for us to focus on what we believe we need to change to reach that goal.
What we don’t often realize is that there is a deeper issue we need to fix if we want to reach that goal.
For example, let’s say you want to be better at managing your money so you can get out of debt – or at least stop putting money on your credit cards.
Usually this process will start by isolating a few areas in your spending that are hurting your finances. Eating out too frequently is a common one.
This individual will then tell themselves that eating out is hurting their financial progress so they are not going to eat out at all next year.
There are two problems with this approach to setting goals.
First, just setting a goal saying you won’t do something at all is very difficult for most people.
Let’s assume this person was eating out 2-3 times per week, previously. To go from eating out over one hundred times per year to zero is unrealistic.
What would make more sense it to start with a goal of only eating out 1-2 times per week. Do this for a month and once you have that mastered cut it down to 1 time per week, or every other week.
Large goals are important, but they must be broken down into steps. Think of running a marathon. Would it make sense to go from zero training to running 26 miles on your first morning?
No, that wouldn’t work – or be good for your body.
So in this example, it is more effective to cut back on the frequency of eating out, than to try and go cold-turkey and not do it at all.
The second reason this goal of not eating out likely won’t work is because we haven’t isolated what is causing the issue.
To just say you won’t do something, doesn’t help you change the underlying issue.
This is where the self-examination comes into play. This is often overlooked because it takes effort and self-reflection.
To effectively make change, we have to get past the fear we have of seeing our weaknesses.
Returning to our example of eating out, we have to understand why we are doing it.
Once we have isolated the cause, we can start making the necessary changes.
This will help us to get to our ultimate goal, which is bettering our finances.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
As you examine the habits that lead you to eating out you will better understand the cause of the issue.
It could be that eating out is a by-product of a busy schedule. Perhaps each night you are running your kids around town and don’t have time to cook a meal.
As a result, you quickly go through the drive-thru as you are rushing from point A to point B.
If this is the cause of your eating out, you essentially have a planning issue.
Once you understand what it causing it you can make a plan.
Another possibility is that you neglect to bring your lunch to work and end up eating out with co-workers.
Understanding this is the cause, you can then plan at night when you cook to have leftovers to take.
Or, perhaps eating out stems from a lack of discipline when it comes to your health. If this is the case, setting better health goals will lead you to your goal of saving money eating out.
What initially started as a desire to improve your finances, then became a planning issue, or lack of healthy eating goals.
The interesting thing with goals is that more often than not, what we think we need to change is not always the root of the problem – it is usually much deeper.
Changing Habits Instead of Setting Goals
Once we have isolated what the real issue is, we can now establish habits to help us with our goals.
Goals are our grand desires – the things we sit back and dream about.
Goals are important because they give us something to aim for.
But the problem for most people is that their goals are often just desires to do something, and often lack action.
Goals do not create results unless habits are put in place.
It is the habits that we establish that will carry us when our “motivation” to reach our goals is low.
Going back to our eating out example, if you want to change the underlying issues we isolated – health decisions, lack of planning, etc. – you have to establish habits that will help you avoid the negative action.
If it really comes down to poor planning, you will need to establish a habit each week where you plan out a menu and go shopping.
If your problem was eating out because you didn’t take lunch to work, you can plan your meals so there is enough leftover to take each day.
Or, you can buy enough food and leave some at work.
The planning is what is important. Setting a habit of doing this planning weekly is vital.
The key to this type of action is that you are anticipating what will cause you to break your goal instead of trying to react when the temptation comes along.
One of the hardest things for me this past year was adjusting my schedule so I was getting up at 5:30 in the morning.
I wanted to do this because I found the mornings to be my most productive time.
There were two things that made it hard for me to get up early.
First, I was usually not tired until 11 o’clock at night. Getting to bed that late was making it hard to get up early.
Second, I was in a habit of hitting snooze.
Because I knew both of these were issues, I set habits that would help me be proactive.
To overcome the first issue, I decided to get up at 5:00 for the next couple mornings. I knew that getting up this early would make me more tired at night.
And if that didn’t work, I was going to move it to 4:30.
It didn’t take long before I was ready to go to bed at my desired bedtime – 10 o’clock.
I also examined my nightly habits that were preventing me from getting to bed on time.
Anything that was causing me to stay awake later I eliminated.
To counteract the second obstacle of snoozing, I put my phone far enough away from my bed so I had to get up to turn it off.
This made more of a difference than anything else.
Other than a few mornings of not feeling well, once I was up I had very little struggle staying out of bed.
I have set a goal of getting up earlier many times before, but this is the first time it really stuck.
The reason for that is because I looked deeper at what was preventing the action.
Had I just set the goal to get up without changing my nightly routine and moving my phone, change would have been unlikely.
After doing this for the last 3 months it has become routine. I struggle very little with it now.
This has allowed me to move onto other productive goals. This is also why I like the idea of building upon goals instead of trying to do too many at one time.
I have noticed with myself that having too many goals not only causes frustration, but also confusion.
The clearer your goals the better. Don’t complicate it.
We Must Change Who We Are to Reach Our Goals
We often confuse what we need to change when it comes to our goals.
Are we trying to change an action, or are we trying to change who we are?
The answer to this seems obvious but when you look back on your past broken resolutions it is likely because you were trying to change an action instead of yourself.
When I set a goal to get up early, I knew that it came down to mastering my own discipline.
I was not only changing my discipline when it came to my schedule, I was changing who I was inside.
When the alarm went off, I had an internal battle with myself for the first month.
One voice was telling me to lay back down, while the other was reminding me of the goal I had set.
When we undertake a goal, it is that internal conversation we are trying to master. Once we can control that, real change is possible.
We cannot lose sight of how important it is to change who we are when we are setting our goals.
Setting goals is about more than just writing down a lofty desires and hoping the steps we put in place will be sufficient.
It must be deeper than that. Here is a summary of the steps we must follow:
Set your goal:
Goals should be both lofty and layered.
Our goals must stretch us and cause us to dream. These are our long-term goals. These are often the final destination.
We must also have lawyered goals. They are the foundational goals that can be broken down into steps to help us reach our lofty goals.
These goals are what keep us grounded and prevent frustration. The simpler we can make our lofty goals, the more likely we are to keep working on them.
Try not to work on all of them at one time. Instead, break them down and determine which ones are most important and start there.
Isolate the issue:
When looking at your goals, determine what is the underlying issue is. What is it that needs to change for you to make progress on your goal?
This could stem from something you are doing or not doing. Either way it is stopping your progress.
There may be layers to your current struggle. Dig deep until you are at the very root of the problem.
Doing this will help you isolate the source of your problem. If you don’t do this digging you may be working on an issue that isn’t truly the cause.
Go as deep as you can until you have found the root.
This is what you need to change to reach your goal.
Once we have set the goal, and have found the root of the problem, set habits that will give you discipline in reaching your goal.
Having “motivation” is not enough. Motivation usually dries up when things get tough.
Habits are different because you have already decided what you are going to do and no longer have to depend on “motivation.”
If you are trying to eat healthier, be proactive and decide what foods you will eat when you are hungry, instead of deciding what to eat when you get hungry.
Planning helps you put habits in place that become automatic. This helps you set goals that teach you how to be proactive instead of reactive.
The habits you implement are what will carry you through this process of obtaining your goals.
Change will not come right away, but it will come.
It may take a couple months until you really feel like you are making progress. It is important to know this up-front.
Your victories will be small at first, but as you gain discipline and momentum those victories will become bigger ones.
These efforts will then compound on top of each other. What was once a small victory in discipline will now compound to large accomplishments.
Starting to get up early was a simple victory. That extra time was then used for spiritual and professional progress.
As I did this day after day, I was now seeing 2x the growth I was seeing previously.
That discipline is now affecting other areas of my life. The compounding is powerful.
It all starts with what we are trying to become. Any goal we set for ourselves must center on changing us at our core.
Focus on who you can become when setting goals – it is the only way to make lasting change and reach our goals.
I hope these ideas will help you better reach your New Year’s resolutions.