This January, I'm not planning to make any New Year's resolutions. I'm taking a new approach to goal setting — one that doesn't revolve around unrealistic expectations for one measly month out of the year. For tips on making lasting life improvements instead of empty resolutions, keep reading.
Why no resolutions?
In the past, I've made long lists by category of improvement, forgetting the specifics within a few weeks even though they were written down. If you don't know what you're trying to improve — and why — it's difficult to stay motivated to continue working toward a goal.
Discouragement by February
Other years, my lack of measurable progress left me frustrated a month or two in. If I didn't lose weight or have a cleaner house, I felt like my resolutions were pointless. Habits take time to change, and sometimes our January enthusiasm can be unrealistic.
Too many goals to focus on
When I made resolutions, I made goals in several areas of my life. Setting goals in this way made me feel ambitious but left me unable to focus on truly improving much in any one area. Part of this is my personality, of course. If I had set just a few measurable goals, I might have had more success.
Not meeting goals
Unfortunately, when I followed a more traditional model of resolutions, I didn't work on anything for the entire year. Rarely did I examine my progress after the month of June, leaving six months of the year with few plans for self-improvement.
What to do instead?
Find a word or phrase to guide you
This idea resonates with me. January is a natural time for a fresh start, so adopt a new mantra to guide you throughout the year. In the past, some of my mantras have been: "Be your best self. Find the good. Learn to love."
Set smaller goals — throughout the year
It's better not to load up on resolutions in January. Rather, set smaller goals throughout the year, working on just one or two at a time. When I reach goals and have made permanent changes, I set new ones. I'm currently working on getting more sleep at night and improving the way I communicate with my children.
Work on continual self-improvement
I try to meditate every morning after I pray and think about how I want to live my life just that day. Even if I forget for a day or two, this habit of reflection and focus guides me to be a better person. Set aside some time each day to think about or work on improving your life.
No matter when you set your goals, finding someone to help you keep on track may be the key to your success as you work to overcome bad habits or make significant lifestyle changes. Motivators include spouses, roommates, friends, electronic trackers (like weight-loss apps) and journals.
No matter when you start, Jan. 1 or June 22, setting goals and working toward becoming a better person is beneficial. Find a system that works for you and implement it in your life. You'll be better able to love and care for yourself and those around you as you become the person you want to be.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.