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New Year’s resolutions:  we make ‘em and we break ‘em.  The start of the new year is a natural time to reflect and take stock of how things are going in life.  It is also a time to make glib decisions (“I’m going to lose 10 pounds this year”) that are little more than hopes.

Resolution implies resolve, something quite different than passively hoping things turn out differently next year.  Hope puts you in the position of spectator in your own life, watching as the story of your year unfolds.  Resolve implies making a decision and putting some muscle behind it.  You want something to happen (or not happen), and you are willing to commit yourself.  The decision must be yours.  Your partner or boss or doctor may want you to do something differently, but if the change isn’t something you can make your own, it isn’t likely to amount to much.

So start by taking stock.  As you look back over the past year, notice what has worked for you and what hasn’t.  Where would you like to be in 12 months?  Resolutions tend to fall into one of three categories:

New stuff – things you want to start.  It might be starting an exercise program, or it might be finding new ways to be more sociable.  Think of these as additions to your life that will make life richer.

Stuff you want to stop.  You may decide that you want to become less anxious in social situations, or to stop smoking or procrastinating. Think of these as subtractions, behaviors that will make life better when they are no longer holding you back from your goals.

Stuff you want to continue.  We typically don’t think of these as fodder for resolutions, but it is very important to notice what is working in your life, what you want to keep.

After you’ve made your inventory, what’s next?  Here are three suggestions:

  1. Don’t make too many changes all at once.  If you’ve made a list, look it over carefully.  What are your top priorities – the ones that will have the biggest impact, or the ones that are the most achievable?  You can always make more changes after you’ve accomplished these top goals, but trying to do too many things at once can cause you to lose focus or to feel overwhelmed by the work ahead of you.
  2. Reward yourself when you are successful.  Pat yourself on the back when you do what you set out to do.  That includes acknowledging the little steps that are part of achieving greater goals.  If your goals are challenging enough or pretty big, consider creating a budget to support what you’re doing.  If the goal is to lose some weight, for instance, put aside some money to buy some new clothes as you drop those pounds.
  3. Forgive yourself when you’re not successful.  Perfectionism is your enemy.  It isn’t unusual to backslide a bit when creating change in your life.  Change is hard.  Your goal is progress, not perfection.