Have you made promises year after year? Here’s the thing about promises, especially those that are named resolutions on New Year’s Eve – they are hard to keep and have a high rate of not being able to achieve. We set goals, we share them with others, and by the end of January we return to the same behaviours we promised we would change. To make matters more complex this year, we’ve been living in uncertain and stressful times, where old rules have been thrown away, social norms have changed, and the people and places we count on may or may not be there to help us. Below are seven guides to making successful resolutions:

  1. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings.

Listen to the emotions that give rise to your resolutions. Our joy, for example, can lead us to commit to spending more time with those who bring us joy. Our disappointment is a guide to avoid certain others. Our envy can lead us to work harder to achieve something. Our contentment when solo can lead us to a resolve to schedule quiet times. Focus on enhancing positive experiences and enjoyability of the activity rather than the ‘should do’ or just the goal of the activity itself.    
Allow yourself to reflect on and be guided by how you want to feel. For example, healthy and fit! If your resolution is to exercise, frame it as “work out in the morning to de-stress and gain energy” rather than “work out to lose 20 kilos and finally become skinny.”   

  1. Try cutting down instead of cutting out.

Try being flexible and moderate rather than rigid or extreme while you are trying to stop a habit or remove a behaviour. If we try to eliminate entirely the habits we rely on throughout our daily lives, we may crave them even more. For example, if your goal is to stop drinking four cups of coffee a day, don’t eliminate coffee entirely from your diet starting on January 1. Try having three cups a day for a week, then two cups per day the following week, and so on.   

  1. Keep doing what you like doing.

Maintain the activities you enjoy. Rather than stopping your life on January 1 to fixate on your list of resolutions, reflect on what brings you joy and keeps you motivated. Remember that we don’t need to eliminate parts of our life to make room for new ones; we can adapt. For example, if your resolution is to spend more time with your family, you don’t need to give up your friends. You can simply add family to your calendar. Most of the time we don’t have to choose; we just need to think ahead. 

  1. Be aspirational and realistic.

Create realistic goals. Nobody knows you better than yourself. Yes, you can push yourself even as you create goals that are sensible and conscious of your abilities. After all, if we shoot for the moon and miss, we will be among the stars. For example, if you commit to clear out your email inbox every night and you consistently are falling short at half-way through, use it as an opportunity to be realistic and re-group and set a new expectation. 

  1. Go for it and learn.

Embrace mistakes and failure. When we try new things, we aren’t destined to be perfect. Rather than giving up and labelling your goal as “impossible” when you fail to reach it, try again. If we were all perfect, acheiving your goals would not be as fulfilling. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon and you are too exhausted to finish, identify what was toughest for you and use the experience to focus your training. If you commit to meeting your work deadlines and you miss one, use it as an opportunity to reflect on work habits. Let your disappointment be your guide to something new. Approaching your next deadline, experiment with a different work schedule.    

  1. Look to others for support and give back.

Lean on your friends and family for support. Have the courage and foresight to ask for help – perhaps in the form of a reminder. Even though resolutions are “personal” goals, the people you surround yourself with can help make your goals more attainable and provide wisdom and encouragement along the way. You can also be their cheerleader, and support friends and family in trying to achieve their goals. Focusing on others can be rewarding and watching them ‘get there’ can be inspiring.    

  1. Give yourself grace. 

Incorporate positive affirmations into the process of achieving your goals. One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves this holiday season and for all of 2023 is self-compassion. It will take practice to include yourself in the circle of people you give kindness to. By practicing grace and self -compassion, we are not letting ourselves (or others for that matter) “off the hook,” but remembering what it is to be human.