For Real Change This Year, Skip the Resolutions and Look to Your Life Goals

hand drawing check boxIt’s that time of year again – the gyms are packed, nicotine patches are flying off the shelves, and book shelves are loaded with titles that promise dramatic weight loss and a svelte new figure. The obligatory New Year’s Resolutions are made, and all too often, are forgotten as quickly as they were made. By now, mid-January, many have already abandoned their resolutions. But, why? A new year seems like the perfect opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, right?

Let’s take the following example, if you are a smoker, you already know that it is harmful to your health and you’ll be healthier and live longer if you quit. It doesn’t take January 1st rolling around for you to understand this. But, as January 1st does roll around and your family and friends are talking about their New Year’s resolutions, smoking cessation might pop into your mind as something you should do. The problem is that smoking cessation is very difficult and requires a deep and sincere commitment; success is unlikely if it is merely a resolution made on a whim.

Perhaps, looking at resolutions through the lens of commitment to change can help us to better understand how to make positive changes this year. Instead of making the obligatory resolution, pull out your bucket lists and dust the cobwebs off of your deepest held dreams and life goals. What better to foster a deep commitment than recalling the passion that motivated a life long dream?

Maybe your career goal has always been to own your own business and be your own boss. Or, maybe you have been dreaming of taking a European vacation. Perhaps one of your life goals is home ownership. Or, your dream is to complete that degree you started years ago. Certainly, it is easy to see how major life goals like these would inspire stronger passion and commitment than your standard, token New Year’s resolution. But, it is also important to remember that they are major life goals and not something that can be done overnight, so creating a plan is critical.

Of course, the first step in creating the plan is to select the dream or goal that you are most passionate about pursuing. Then picture yourself, in as much detail as possible, living your dream. Now, chances are you haven’t achieved your goal yet because it seems too big. Maybe it’s a goal that requires more money than you have or more time than you can commit. Take a look at the obstacles between you and your dream and one by one, start coming up with some possible strategies to remove the obstacles.

When you get stuck, and you will (it’s okay; it’s part of the process), summon all your passion and enthusiasm for this dream and sit with it for a while to reinvigorate your spirit. Then start talking to people similar to you who have made the same dream come true. Ask them how they did it and how they managed some of the obstacles you are struggling with. Now, with the benefit of all of this planning and research, picture yourself living your dream again. Chances are that this time, it will be a more realistic picture and seem more possible.

Now that you have a clear sense of what is required, the obstacles you may face and the strategies to combat them, it’s time to create a concrete plan. Your plan should have a realistic time line, with smaller, more manageable goals and deadlines built in throughout. As you achieve the smaller goals in your plan, reward yourself. For example, if the life goal you are working on is starting you own business, when you complete your business plan, reward yourself with a day off, from your current job, and spend it doing some of the things you think you will enjoy most when you are running your own business. If you miss a deadline, don’t beat yourself up, reach out to people who have done this before and seek support and advice. If you have to extend your time line, don’t turn on yourself, just think how much closer you are to your dream than you were when you started. Eventually, with enough time, commitment, and hard work, you will fulfill your dream.

Major endeavors will probably take longer than a year, but if another New Year rolls around in the process, you’ll probably be too busy working on your dream to worry about making the obligatory resolution. You may even find that with the confidence and satisfaction that you gained through working towards your dream, you lost 10 pounds or quit smoking without making an empty New Year’s resolution.

© Copyright 2011 by By Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bruce

    January 18th, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    I have always wanted to visit the far east and discover the various monasteries and other things there because all those have always fascinated me. As soon as I read this article I was reminded of this biggest wish of mine. Although it’s not possible this year, I shall now try and start saving from February for that dream trip of mine to the far east.

  • bernie

    January 18th, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    I gave up smoking five years ago now. I tried before to quit twice on different New Years, and failed miserably. It took my father needing a triple bypass because of his smoking to motivate me. Occasionally we need an extra push that’s external.

  • Clare

    January 18th, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    New Years resolutions feel like nothing but pressure inflicted on you by other people! Every New Year my parents ask me if I’ll be making a resolution to give up smoking this year and every time I say no. I hope to one day but I’ll do so on my own terms and when I’m ready.

  • Leo

    January 18th, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    Tackling life goals instead of resolutions is a fab idea! I love going out with friends every week but it’s a killer on my bank balance because we go to smart restaurants. I have a dream of a house in the country sometime but it’s even close to affordable in the near term. Should I be giving up the nights out in order to save for the house then? It’s the only socializing I do really and I would miss my friends. I guess sacrifice is the name of the game if you want anything badly enough…

  • Graeme

    January 18th, 2011 at 6:19 PM

    It doesn’t have to be about sacrifice, does it? Why don’t you arrange to see your friends for lunch or have a night in socializing? You could cook them a cheap meal like pasta, and if you must meet somewhere, lunch meals are always cheaper than evening meals. Remind yourself why you’re doing it and it won’t feel like sacrifice.

  • Pamela

    January 18th, 2011 at 7:46 PM

    Are you so sure your friends wouldn’t be happy to give their wallets a break too? Sometimes people get caught up in keeping up appearances and don’t want to be the one to bring up any need for change. If you all just want to get together, where you eat doesn’t matter. It’s all being together that does. I bet they have life goals of their own and would admire your reason for wanting to cut back.

  • Adam

    January 18th, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    I want to go on a world cruise while I’m young enough to enjoy it! I’m not waiting until I’m old and can’t wring every last drop of fun out of the experience. I started saving in my early twenties for it and all my friends thought I was insane. Now, I’m in better financial shape than them all put together and will be booking that cruise for my 40th birthday in three years time. They don’t laugh half as much now. :) I looked at the bigger picture and they didn’t.

  • Scot

    January 19th, 2011 at 5:43 AM

    I do think that it is helpful to remember though that life goals cannot be obtained in one day. It is great to have goals for yourself and things that you wish to accomplish, but just know that much of this is not going to happen overnight.

  • denise r

    January 19th, 2011 at 7:00 AM

    hey that’s a good idea! it may not get done or completed in this year but you are at least starting off in the direction of something that is very important in your life :)

  • Walter

    January 19th, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    Goals will never be attained if you don’t think about them often and take steps towards their manifestation. Idly mulling over how you would love that Porsche won’t make it appear in your driveway or your dream home sprout from the dirt. Sustained hard work and zeroing in on the goal will bring you these things. It’s the hard work part that makes failures of the weak-willed.

  • Philip

    January 19th, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    That was a very good article! Sarah, I’m impressed with your writing and the thought process. Bravo!

  • Chelsea

    January 24th, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    I love the travel goals on here – very cool! Breaking down any kind of plan into small, manageable chunks, is a good idea. It really does help to see that a general plan like “Open a business and be a success!” is not going to happen unless you dissect that into several steps and work hard.

  • Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

    January 30th, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    Thanks for all the feedback and I’m glad to see that this piece resonated with a lot of you. Just imagine where you could be this time next year if you started pursuing a life long dream today!

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