Photo Credit: Isaac Smith, Unsplash.com

Written by Ramona Harvey
February 7, 2020

It wasn’t until about three years after coming to the US from Romania that I heard about the term “resolution.” At first I thought it was a legal term. The way I understood its meaning, I perceived it as a new start, a clean slate. Resolutions seemed like seeds planted in a fertile blend of imagination, hope, and discipline. Over time, I made yearly resolutions, such as to find a better job, to leave a boyfriend and find my own apartment, to move to California, to get back in shape after my first baby was born. 

One year I made a resolution to start writing a book that I’d been thinking about for a while. It seemed like a fun idea (and a challenging one). The first Friday of the year, I blocked my work calendar for 9-11 AM, went to a cafe and wrote a few pages. That simple win gave me hope that I might actually be able to do this, and I felt good about myself.

The following weeks I tried to keep up my new goal, but soon I got busy with work and life (as I’m sure you relate), and writing took a backseat. By summer, I’d stopped writing altogether and didn’t feel good about giving up on a goal I’d been so excited about at first. I was in need of a new spike of motivation. 

I looked up writing classes and came across a writing workshop organized by the beloved writer Elizabeth Gilbert in Napa, where I’d get to hear her talk and no doubt I’d be inspired to pick up my writing. I signed up and the workshop was indeed inspiring, though in a different way than I’d expected . . .

She shared a simple but powerful exercise that had helped her keep up with her own inspiration and motivation. We were to write a letter to our fear, and then, a letter from our fear to us. It went like this: “Dear <name>, I am your fear and this is what I want to say to you . . . ” It was a cathartic exercise, one that I’ve recommended to my own clients since as a coach. 

For the first time, I gave voice to that part of me that worried that I didn’t have what it takes to write (I never took creative writing classes, English is my second language, what do I have to say that hasn’t been said before?), that I won’t write consistently (I didn’t keep up with most of my New Year’s resolutions), or that if I did keep up with writing I’d end up embarrassing myself (enter: impostor syndrome).

As I wrote, I felt a sense of compassion for my inner fear. It made sense to worry that I couldn’t do something I’d never done before. It made sense to worry that others wouldn’t like what I write. I never went back to reading what I wrote back then, but I do remember how the writing exercises felt. It was both a relief and a terrifying experience. I remember feeling a couple of tears after I wrote. It was a deeply empowering, spiritual experience that stayed with me. I encourage you to try it also, even if just to see how it feels. I have a feeling it’ll be refreshing and inspiring for you, too. 

As I listened to that part of me that worries, I made space for other parts of me to open up. I gave voice to the part of me that believes that people have the seed of magnificence inside them, and that I too might have it if I chose to believe I do.

That day, on my way back home to San Francisco from the workshop, I started to imagine what I’d write in my book, and soon after, I picked up writing again. That was five years ago. This year’s resolution, or rather, this year’s theme, is to complete what I begin. One of my goals is to finish writing my book. Bigger goals, like bigger plants, can take longer to grow and bloom than others. 

Building the Momentum

I’m guessing you’ve made New Year’s resolutions, and that you know how difficult it is to keep up the momentum for more than a few days. You may want to give up an unhealthy habit, or commit to a big goal or practice, or dedicate a certain amount of time for self-care.

Research shows that there are many reasons why 80% of us don’t tend to keep our New Year’s resolutions: our goals might not be realistic, we don’t make a plan to achieve them, we don’t know how to create new habits to replace old ones, we don’t have support to help us stay on track, and we don’t have a system to track our progress.

As a coach and researcher, I observe what helps my clients keep their goals for the year. After all, my job is to help them stay accountable to the greatest, most magnificent version they can envision for themselves. I encourage them to set clear goals and a timeline, build new healthy habits, and track progress. And yet, it can feel demoralizing when they feel they can’t maintain their commitment.

Let me share with you two ways that truly work when it comes to keeping up with your goals (Because your dreams are important and your happiness matters!):

1) Adopt a compassionate tone and give voice to your resistance

Let’s start by checking in on your energy. Explore how you genuinely think and feel about your New Year’s resolutions (and goals in general).

Do they represent your dream of your highest self, or, are they based on what you think you should do? Do you enjoy planning and staying organized? How do you frame your goals? The way you think about your goals, the tone you use makes all the difference in the way you feel about them. 

If the goals feel forceful to you, over time you might subconsciously rebel against them, sabotaging yourself. For example, I now recognize an inner conflict when it comes to keeping up with my resolution to exercise daily. “Do I have to do this right now? I have other things to do . . . ” Time and time again I’ve seen myself start something, do it for a few days, and then feel unmotivated or even conflicted about it. As the goal morphs from something “I want to” do, to something “I have to” do, I find a convenient excuse not to do it. 

Over time, I learned that I’m more likely to keep up with my goals if I take Liz Gilbert’s advice and allow myself to give voice to my own fears (and my inner rebel). I found that by giving voice to my self-doubts, they lose power and diffuse. A good way to do this is to do an exercise I call “Goal journaling” where you jot down your goals, regularly check in with yourself about how you feel about them, and remind yourself why they are important to you. Giving voice to your resistance will also encourage you to open up to the part of you that wants to motivate you to be your best self. 

Through journaling I learned that when I put too much pressure on myself, I will rebel. I remind myself not to beat myself up if I don’t exercise one day. I know that if I beat myself up I end up feeling down, slowing down–or even halting–my progress.

When we let go of the tight grip of worry, we relax. Studies show that feeling calm or optimistic helps us to be more creative, and we begin to see possibilities where we haven’t seen them before.

Of course, having the right attitude about setting goals won’t in itself drive the actions that lead us to the goal we desire. It’s not quick or easy to switch careers or write a book. But when our goals are based on what we truly value, they become meaningful, and can create a sense of life purpose. Striving for something “bigger” is a key element of happiness theory in positive psychology, and the “M” in Seligman’s PERMA model.

And once you commit and see how following through with your goals will make you feel more purposeful, you’ll be ready to choose the right steps to stay motivated and follow through. Forget the cynics who say it can’t be done, because it can.

2) Break down goals into a daily practice

Over time, I learned that there are some great tools out there, and some of them really do help me stick with my goals. I created a practice I believe in and that I stick to. 

  • For instance, I noticed that when I set an intention at the beginning of each day to exercise, I am more likely to stay motivated to follow through. 
  • Another tool I use is I create a vision for exactly what I want to create, in very specific terms (such as, “this year I’ll finish writing my book”). I write that vision down in my journal at the beginning of the year (I have six resolutions this year, some related to my business, others to my health and fitness). I recommend searching your heart for goals that are both meaningful and feel good. 
  • I then share that vision with my family, my friends, and even on social media. Speaking about your goal is a verbal commitment to your own vision. 
  • Another important aspect of staying committed is to reduce your goal into clear, realistic steps, that you know you absolutely can accomplish. I recommend this approach to my clients–many of whom are entrepreneurs or own small businesses. If, for instance, they want to grow their business by $500,000 this year, they break that into quarters, and now $125,000 seems more doable. Then they think about what actions they need to take, such as emailing or setting up calls with prospects. The daily goal becomes 10 calls, and that’s what they focus on each day. They focus on staying motivated to take one small step, one day at a time. Starting small’s a great way to build confidence and willpower.
  • Breaking down our big goals into small steps leads us to small wins, which will motivate you to stay on course. Those tiny, daily progressions add up over time to big things. 
  • When you experience a small win, like running that one mile every day, celebrate it, give yourself a little reward. For instance, last year I treated myself to a cappuccino and a scone at my favorite cafe after I ran for about an hour at the beach. There are so many times when I skipped a day or have come close to giving up on a small daily goal like a 20 minute workout, only to turn it around because of the promise of my reward.
  • Lastly, I recommend writing in your journal at the end of each day about your small wins. Pat yourself on the back. Close your day by lighting a candle, writing as little as three sentences about what went well. 

And repeat from the top! Don’t underestimate the power of a daily practice in motivating you to continue on your inner journey of growth. 

Are you ready to claim your resolutions?

Give yourself some love and set meaningful goals and fun rewards for yourself. Trust yourself. You’ll accomplish your goals with positive energy and a self-empowering mindset.

Because you do deserve good things, my friend. 

Photo Credit: Isaac Smith, Unsplash.com