By: Emily Boecking – runhers editors
Most of us use the New Year to clear the slate and start fresh in January.  According to national surveys, here are the top ten resolutions for Americans:

  1. Spend more time with family and friends.
  2. Get fit.
  3. Tame the bulge.
  4. Quit smoking.
  5. Enjoy life more.
  6. Quit drinking.
  7. Get out of debt.
  8. Learn something new.
  9. Help others.
  10. Get organized.

The research also shows that a full 95% of these people who set a New Year’s resolution never follow through.  Any of these sound familiar?  Most of us have had one or many of these on our resolution list over the years.  The question is how many of these resolutions really turned into long term fixes?  Was the resolution too vague like the list above?  No real goal or plan, just a general statement that I plan to < fill in the blank > this year?  Or was it too rigid and specific, not offering the flexibility to make mistakes, recover, adjust and keep moving forward?  Or did it just not include a simple plan for guidance with some simple steps to begin in earnest, as well as methods for getting back on track when the attempts at change become derailed?

For 2012, rather than make a one time resolution that we often view to be a ‘make or break’ deal, can we instead garner the momentum and motivation to create a new, improved “us” – to focus on how can we teach ourselves to implement positive changes in our lives?  After all, what exactly is important about the resolution or goal itself?  Tony Robbins offers a good viewpoint:

Goals are a means to an end, not the ultimate purpose of our lives. They are simply a tool to concentrate our focus and move us in a direction. The only reason we really pursue goals is to cause ourselves to expand and grow. Achieving goals by themselves will never make us happy in the long term; it’s who you become, as you overcome the obstacles necessary to achieve your goals, that can give you the deepest and most long-lasting sense of fulfillment.

It’s WHO you become on the journey that matters!  Tony, the man who coaches some of the most accomplished people on the planet in their quest to a better lifestyle, urges us to imagine and create ‘who’ we want to become  and to use goals, both big and small, as the bull’s-eye at which we aim to get ourselves there. 

So instead of focusing on the destination, let’s instead bring our focus to the journey…

Where does this journey begin?  Our research of people who have made significant positive self change followed a couple of key steps.  They (1) defined the goal, (2) assessed the payoffs and (3) learned how to course correct to deal with the inevitable life hurdles or setbacks that are just part of life!

Define the Goal

Where are you now, and where do you want to go?  Where are you starting your journey, and where is the destination you see this journey leading you to?  So start by taking a little personal inventory:  questions like, ‘what do I really want’, ‘what is my vision of a healthy, happy me’ are simple starts.  Maybe we are a little off course, maybe we are way off course.  Accepting where we are now and then envisioning where we want to be is the best first step. 

So set aside some time and make a thoughtful list of these goals and dreams- use your computer, your smart phone, or even the tried and true pen and paper!  Imagine goals big and small and write them down!  List whatever comes to mind and let go of limits – ask yourself ‘what would I attempt to do and if I knew I could not fail?’  Don’t be scared to dream big and be creative; after all, this is your life that you ARE creating! 

Now that we’ve assessed where the journey begins and where we want it to end, what are the steps in this journey that will lead us to our destination?  Review your list and pick the top goal or goals.  And for each of these goals, create a road map that will take you from where you are now to where you want to be.  Don’t get too tangled up on this step—look at the goal with some realistic thinking—then break it down to small manageable steps and actions to move you forward.  

Be as simple as possible and make the steps as manageable as possible.  Tag an initial timeline to it.  What small step can I take to get started?  What small improvement can I make today or this week?   It could be something you can accomplish in 30 days – or for a big honkin’ dream it may be 20 years.  As you identify these steps to guide your travels as you progress along your journey, remember, it’s just a rough draft!  After all, the only thing that never changes is change!  Sure there will be bumps in the road or detours along the way, but the important part now is to get direction and get started.  Let’s starting building momentum and keep momentum going forward and appreciate the small improvements and small victories – they will add up in a big way! 

Assess the Payoffs 

Our natural behavior is based on a system of perceived payoffs.  We have resolved to set on the journey we outlined above; because there are specific incentives or rewards we have identified when we implement the positive self-change.  We would assume these payoffs would be pretty self-evident—we obviously want to achieve our goal of < fill in the blank > because if we do we will have x, y, and z.  But are x, y, and z as obvious as we think they are?  Let’s create a new note on our phones, or pull out another piece of paper and list the benefits/payoffs we expect to realize should we achieve our goal.  Did this litany of payoffs readily flow from pen to paper without a second’s hesitation, or was there a need to pause and ask ourselves “what, exactly, do I expect from accomplishing this self change?”  Most of us might find ourselves needing to stop and think for a minute before we are able to complete this task; simply because it’s not an exercise that many of us have actually asked ourselves to perform.  It really is worth doing!  Consider the time an investment in you!

Alright, now let’s make a list of the payoffs we would enjoy should we choose not to change.   Is this list fairly sparse with only an item or two here or there, or do we actually see that there are some payoffs we enjoy from not implementing the change?  After all, change isn’t easy!  If changes were easy, and there were no payoffs from maintaining our current behavior, then wouldn’t everyone breeze through their New Years’ Resolutions every year?  Yes, we’re nodding our heads in agreement too!

Now let’s weigh the payoffs of implementing the self change against the payoffs for not implementing the change.  Which set of payoffs do we find to be empowering with the individual we envision ourselves as?  Which set do we find to be more negative with our dream self?   Again, the answers to these questions might seem pretty transparent, but taking an inventory of the pros and cons of changing versus not changing will serve us as a reminder as to why we want to change, not why we feel we have to change.  As the journey progresses where our quest for self-change becomes daunting and we are resorting back to ‘old self’- and the payoffs would be seemingly so much more comfortable and effortless, we can remind ourselves that this is a journey we chose and will continue to choose because it is the destiny we want, not the destiny that is easier.      

Course Correct

We now have a vision of where we are headed and why we want to be headed there.  And we took a brief stab at how we were going to get there so we might embark on our journey with some directive.  Now, how do we insure that we stay completely on track to our goal so that we can successfully arrive at our destination?  The answer is we don’t—we can count on being off our originally mapped course most of the time.  The key is to learn to improvise and adapt to the ever changing circumstances in our lives and learn to course correct.

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, was only on course to its destination 20% of the time.  The entire mission was almost abandoned because repeated trial and error from the best scientific minds of the time could not develop a method for maintaining an accurate trajectory to Earth’s natural satellite in space.  Only after the focus was taken away from how to stay 100% true to the originally mapped course and instead brought to make constant small course corrections once deviation from the course was detected were the NASA engineers able to make progress towards their destination.  By keeping their sight on the overall destination, an 80% failure rate was enough to land the spacecraft within 12 feet of the original target on the moon’s surface.  

The people we deem to be “successful” are no different than us in that they have had plenty of setbacks, even devastating failures.  Their road maps had to be changed, often.  Other people, work, events, kids and time all seemed to conspire to defeat their goals.   Creativity had to be used to adjust, to adapt and to take that daily small step to move one step closer.  They never gave up on themselves.  They improved, then fell down, then got back up again.  Each step closer they gained more confidence, energized the next step and over time the lifestyle they envisioned emerged.  And each and every one of us have the capacity and imagination to do the very same.

So here is to 2012—to our renewed commitment to realize the best possible “us” we can envision.  Remember, change doesn’t always come quickly or easily—for any of us!  Old habits are hard to break.  Rather than beating ourselves up and letting that defeat our spirits, let’s accept that setbacks and wrong turns are part of the process—it’s never a direct path to success!  Let’s develop a healthy sense of humor and our improvisation skills!  Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled in some circumstances – after all, sometimes it can make all the difference! And remember, it is the education from the ‘didn’t work’ and the victories of what did that we want to take forward.  We will resolve to not beat ourselves up – everyone makes mistakes and bad things happen.  It is our response that matters.  Use what we would typically label as “failure” as an opportunity to learn a lesson rather than a threat to arriving at our goals.  Let’s make this New Years resolution different than any we have ever made before with the understanding that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey… it’s about life!  All the best for a great 2012!