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Fail-Proofing My New Year’s Resolutions

The  gym is crowded again. Treadmills throb, dumbbells are scattered all over the place, and ellipticals hum with hope that this year will be different, that this year’s resolution to will take root where the remains of last year’s still lay shriveled in pile of defeat. In a few weeks, the new wave of hopefuls will slow to a steady stream, and eventually the stream becomes a trickle before it all but evaporates. The gym will settle back into its lonely equilibrium, and it will be all the same stinky people who were there back in December.

It’s not just the gym. 24 Hour and LA Fitness are a microcosm of the entire practice of making resolutions. We set nebulous goals like “get a better job” or “get in shape,” and when we lose motivation and don’t follow through we become discouraged and give up.

Huge nebulous goal + hope + no planning = failed resolution

It’s this repeated cycle of hope-try-fail that made me opt out of resolution-making. Why would I willingly subject myself to a practice that will likely end in failure and self-loathing? I was frightened of failure, so I didn’t play.

Thankfully, I had a baseball coach in college who made us write down our goals at the beginning of fall workouts.  It was pretty cheesy, and we all wrote down what we thought was expected: Win the championship, hit over .300, don’t make any errors, be a mentally tough player, etc. We shared some of our goals, and coach explained in incredibly profane and descriptive language why our goals felt “cheesy.”

They were recipes for failure.

You can’t make a goal like “win the championship,” he said, without setting smaller, short-term goals that will help you reach the long-term goal. If you want to hit over .300, what are you going to do every day, every week at practice to make that happen? You want to win a championship? What does a championship team do to prepare for the season? What does a championship team do day-to-day during the season? Figure it out; write it down.

We did, and it worked. Now I’m a New Year’s Resolution-making machine. I don’t always meet the big goals, but I accumulate a few  small victories each year.

Plans

Impromptu, poorly considered resolutions are easy to make, but they’re doomed to failure. In order to hit a big goal, I have to analyze what it takes to meet the goal, and set up tasks that will result in successful attainment of the resolution.

For a long time, I sat around thinking about going back to school to get my master’s degree.e It didn’t happen until I set the big goal of getting my MA before I turned 30. First, I had to marry a pretty girl named Allison who would hold down the fort while I studied and went to class. From there, I worked backwards all the way down to setting time aside to research programs, downloading the application, seeking out letters of recommendation, studying for the GRE, registering for the GRE, etc. It’s a lot easier to get three letters of recommendation than it is to get the degree, and it’s not too tough to download and complete an application.

This took some planning, but the planning made those small steps possible. It’s easy to offer up a hope for self-improvement, but without a plan there are no mini-goals. Mini-goals give birth to beautiful small victories, so we gotta have those mini-goals!

Once I had the small steps planned out, I started knocking them down. Here’s the cool thing: as soon as I accomplished one small task, I was successful.

Stack Up the Small Wins

Once I had the small steps planned out, I started knocking them down. Here’s the cool thing: as soon as I accomplished one small task, I was successful. I was motivated, and I was ready to knock down the next mini-goal because I wasn’t suffocating beneath a vague resolution beast like “get more education.” Instead, all I had to do was:

  • Download application
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Register for the GRE
  • Have to study, because I already put down the money
  • Take the test, pass the test, more success.
  • Admitted to the graduate program.

It’s a little overwhelming looking at them all together, but take them one at a time, and they started falling like dominoes. Each little victory put me a little further down the path, whereas in previous years I had stressed all year (to no avail) that “I really should go back to school and get my master’s degree.” (<–nebulous, suffocating goal)

The small victories kept me working toward the big goal, and two years later, three months before my 30th birthday I had my degree.

Sometimes I’m still afraid to set the big goals, because the prospect of failure always looms.  I’m not going to stop though, and I’m going to continue planning out the tasks and stacking up the small wins until I reach the big ones. It’s hard to feel defeated when you keep winning.

Instead of the nebulous suffocators like

  • “Be a better husband.”
  • “Get stronger”
  • “Get better at racquetball”

I’m making plans and filling up the victory column with small wins:

  • Kiss my wife every morning, even when I’m mad at her.
  • Keep lifting weights and increase calorie consumption.
  • Play at least one game a month with my dad.

Stack them up.

Allison’s Take On It

Richie gets mad at moi? Impossible :)

I used to employ this technique in college and high school when it came to completing large projects and it worked great. Some where along the way I stopped doing it. Maybe because when you become a mom your family’s needs kind of dictate the to-do list for the most part. But of course as our kids get older I have more and more time at my discretion. I am notorious for making long to-do lists for when I have “free” time. These usually befall me in half hour increments at most instead of the coveted 2 or 3 hour chunks most of my to-do list items call for. So Richie’s advice along with the mantra of Crystal Paine, one of my favorite blog authors, definitely reminds me that I can still be making progress toward my goals one baby step at a time. If you’re interested, here is the link to a free printable worksheet to help you get started. Here’s another group of free printables just dedicated to exercise if that’s what you’re looking for.

How about you? Any goals for the New Year? Fitness/Nutrition/Health or otherwise?

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