Many years ago, when I still got my information from publications that were printed on paper, the last issue of the calendar year always included tips for making good on your New Year’s Resolutions. There was always so much hope and enthusiasm (and hype) in those articles.
Now, I get most of my information online, and all the year-end articles on goal-setting have come to the collective conclusion that resolutions are stupid and pointless and doomed to fail. They like to point to fitness center memberships as evidence.
So, which is it?
You’ve probably noticed that these days it’s more popular to bash goal-setting as a hopeless and vain pursuit. The pendulum swings both ways over time; apparently, we’re just in that cynical side of the line. I guess too many people felt like failures because they didn’t follow through the way they hoped they would, and so they went the other way.
Yet somehow, every December, we come back to this moment in our lives when we feel like we need to get our lives “back on track,” and January 1 just feels like the natural place to do it. We use words like “clean slate,” “fresh start,” and “turning the page.” It’s as if a tiny tax accountant lives in our minds, keeping daily ledgers of our behaviors, and suddenly – “poof!” – we wipe the books clean because it’s the end of the year. For my Jewish friends, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, effectively performs this function for their consciences.
My mission at Fundamental Health Solutions is to help people “Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, and Live Right.” New Year’s Day is one of those times when all four sides come into focus at the same time, because we tend to have goals in all four areas, so let’s dig in and make this our most successful year yet!
Armed with a clean conscience and a white canvas on which to draw our new selves, we march boldly into the new year full of good intentions. If we attended a business seminar during the year, we might carry along the goal-planning terminology we learned. We measure our goals to make sure they are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). We break them down into smaller milestones, and then into specific tasks.
Then, if you’re REALLY good, you actually schedule those tasks on specific dates in your day planner. That’s next level.
Not Everyone Wins
Now, as I read back over this first part, I can see where it might be tempting to think that I am knocking this behavior, which I absolutely am not. If you can set SMART goals, stick to your plan, and achieve your desired outcomes, you are amazing and you should enjoy the satisfaction of your achievements. Come to the office sometime and let me personally give you my most enthusiastic “high-five.”
But I also realize that not everyone wins at this game, and “losing” can make you feel like the worst kind of failure. If you’ve quit setting goals and resolutions, I’m with you. I want to come alongside you and encourage you for a few minutes if that’s OK.
All you successful goal-setters have a Happy New Year and God Bless. I’m going to spend the rest of this article with my friends who struggle with New Year’s Resolutions…and goal setting in general.
Simple Tips For Successful Goal-setting
OK. Now that it’s just you and me, we can be real with each other about our struggles.
I really understand where you are. I am not the most disciplined human being, but I’m better than I used to be. As Joyce Meyer says, “I’m not where I want to be, but by the Grace of God, I’m not where I used to be.”
Let me share a couple of tips I’ve learned for goal-setting.
Quit setting goals and never go back.
I’m absolutely serious.
One of the worst things you can do to yourself is set yourself up for failure by forcing yourself to make a change you really don’t want to make.
“But I want to change.”
No. If you wanted to change, you would change.
You have to be honest with yourself. Brutally honest.
Stop Harboring Incompatible Desires
I saw a t-shirt recently that said, “I want a hot body, but I also want tacos.” So, when you find yourself in the space between two incompatible goals, you have to be brutally honest with yourself about which one you really want more. Do you want to be skinny or do you want to eat junk food? There is no condemnation allowed here on my website, so whichever you choose is perfectly fine with me. Don’t tell me you want to be skinny more than you want to eat junk food if the opposite is true. No-one wins.
If you keep trying to convince yourself that you want one thing when you actually want the opposite, you will always be unhappy and frustrated. Your behavior will always reflect your real priorities.
It’s like the old First Nations story about two wolves fighting for control of your life: the one that wins is the one you feed.
Are You Insane?
Someone famous once said, “repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” (Some say it was Einstein, but that’s one of those quotes that gets attributed to everyone at some point, so take your pick). The only way to achieve significant change in your life is to significantly change your behavior. The problem is, our brains are hard-wired to seek rewards and resist change, discomfort, and fear. We are creatures of habit and comfort. Change is uncomfortable. It can be scary. If fear of the unknown is a pattern in your life, you will subconsciously resist the very behavior changes that will lead to better outcomes.
I could say more about this, but it would sound better coming from the good people at Psychology Today, who actually know more about this stuff.
So, now that we can be honest with ourselves and admit that we don’t change because we really enjoy the behaviors that got us into the situation we are in, we can do something about it. If you really love watching TV on the couch more than you love being in shape, then being honest about it is the first victory.
Congratulations!! You’ve had your first victory.
That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Moving To The Deeper Issues
“But I still want to have a different outcome than the one I am currently chasing.”
OK, let’s work with that.
Part of acknowledging what you really desire in life is accepting the natural outcomes of that desire. In order to come to terms with the fact that I enjoy eating fast food in the car, I have to also accept the fact that this lifestyle will lead me to heart disease, diabetes, colon diseases, liver disease, and possibly cancer (and maybe a car accident).
“But I don’t want that outcome.”
Then you have a choice to make. There’s an old saying that, “when you marry a girl, you marry her whole family” (I’m not making that up). If you decide that eating fast food in the car is more important to you than eating vegetables, then you logically accept that suffering digestive diseases is more important to you than living a long healthy life. Failure to accept the natural consequences in your decision is a logical lapse. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have input A and output B.
So, now that frames your decisions in a new light.
Reworking the Equation
Is the immediate gratification of junk food more important to you than being healthy in your golden years?
The problem is, yes, immediate gratification always wins over long-term health because of human nature. We seek pleasure and avoid pain. The Apostle Paul called it “the flesh.” It’s a combination of our emotions, urges, appetites, habits, and cravings.
Remember that line he wrote, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak?” That’s what we’re dealing with here.
All the logical reasons for sensible living fly right out the window when you get the flesh involved. The flesh wants to feel good and it wants it NOW! The problem is that most of us have trained our flesh to enjoy things that are unhealthy. If you’ve ever fought an addiction to tobacco, heroin, alcohol, porn, or candy, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your flesh doesn’t listen to reason. It listens to pleasure.
If you want a different outcome, you need to find a way to either silence the flesh or convince it that your desired outcome will feel good.
My really disciplined friends, whose rational will is stronger than their emotional side, can win this battle with sheer willpower. More power to them.
For the rest of us, here is a simple battle plan for beating the flesh at its own game.
Three Steps To Victory
Associate your goal with a behavior.
Quit saying, “I want to lose weight,” or even “I plan to lose 20 pounds.” Those have failure written all over them. Instead, say, “I am going to watch a “Move Right Monday” exercise right now. Don’t give yourself the luxury of putting it off or even of making it vague. Vague goals make you feel like you’re accomplishing something when you aren’t. It’s a complete lie we tell ourselves.
Associate your behavior with pleasure.
As soon as you watch one “Move Right Monday” video, allow yourself to watch one of your favorite performers’ videos. You want your brain to associate that small victory with a reward or something fun. (I suggest that you not make food a reward. One of the reasons you are in the shape you are in is because your emotional side associates food with reward, and that can be destructive.)
Set a limit and stick to it
You MUST make yourself stop after ONE reward.
This is where the battle happens. You will be tempted to let yourself watch your favorite performer’s next video, too. Pretty soon, you have spent the whole afternoon binge-watching your favorite performer. That’s not the point, and it doesn’t move you toward any of your goals. You are going to have to flex your willpower and tell your flesh how to behave.
This is where personal development is born. If you’ve always thought of yourself as a person with no self-control, this is where you turn the tables on that lie for good. Personal development is not achieved by winning the big battles; you grow in self-control one little victory at a time.
- Take one tiny, specific, positive action.
- Give yourself one tiny reward.
Your flesh is going to want to overdose on the reward as much as it wants to overdose on the behavior you’re trying to eliminate. Remember, it’s conditioned to seek pleasure. You will have an avalanche of thoughts about how nice it would be to have some more of the reward or go back to the old behaviors. That’s the trap. The Apostle Paul again entreated us to take every thought captive and measure it against what we know is right. (2 Corinthians 10: 4-6)
Your flesh doesn’t care what will help you in the long run; it only cares about immediate gratification. That’s why you have to win the war in the small moments, in the trenches, doing hand-to-hand combat with wrong thoughts.
Apply This To Other Thought Patterns
If you struggle with thoughts of discouragement, rejection, suicide, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, lust, or any other destructive thoughts, you have to fight them individually with positive thoughts. I draw positive thoughts from the Bible because I have a personal relationship with The Author and I know that what He says about me is always true, good, loving, and right. I also encourage you to meet with a licensed counselor. Don’t fight this fight alone.
Quick Tips For Living The Life You Want In 2018
Stop focusing on the whole year.
Focus on today. If you focus on today enough times in a row, you will complete the whole year. But if you set a massive goal of 365 wins in a row and miss one, the prospect of starting over will overwhelm you.
If you miss a day, start again the next day.
It can be fun to set a goal to see how many days in a row you can successfully perform the new behavior, but it can be just as crippling if you miss a day. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Focus on doing the right thing right now. You’ll be less tempted to give up if you miss one.
Choose a repeatable action.
Instead of saying, “I’m going to get in shape,” say, “I’m going to go over to the gym every day.” One of my friends set a goal that he was going to drive over to the gym every day. Some days he didn’t get out of his car, but some days he did. The victory was that he made the drive, and his mind checked off that little action as a win. After awhile, he realized that, since he had driven that whole way over to the gym, he might as well go inside and see what’s going on. No pressure to perform, no pressure to change his life.
Tell someone about it.
Accountability is an amazingly-powerful way to make your change real in your mind. Now, don’t set up an accountability partner and then lie to them every time you miss your goal. Find a friend you can trust not to bully you for missing. Find an encourager who will make you want to get back on track. Lying to make up the short-fall of goals is what happened to companies like Wells Fargo Bank. They were padding their numbers because their goals were out of control and unachievable.
Jon Says “Go Small”
In his new book, “Finish: Give Yourself The Gift of Done,” author Jon Acuff suggests that you set only one goal and that as soon as you set it, you cut it in half. Set yourself up for small victories instead of huge losses.
If your goal is to eat healthier next year, first of all, get specific about that. Here’s a suggestion: choose that you will add one vegetable to every meal next year, then cut it back to one vegetable at one meal per day. Then, come to our Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner on Thursday, January 11th, with my good friend, Francie Bussing of Plant-Based Radiance. Francie is an instructor in Wellness and Plant-Based Cooking through NCH. She will give you some amazing tips for lifestyle changes and food as medicine. Please RSVP by January 10th to ensure we have enough seating. You’d be amazed at how crowded these dinners have gotten in my little office.
Wow. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to say when I started, but I knew that I needed to be a word of encouragement for people who were dreading the new year, and I think I’ve used up all my words for the rest of the year. I didn’t even get to the list of steps I wrote in 2015, which were also pretty good.
God bless you as we turn the corner into 2018. I pray that it is your best, healthiest, fittest, most balanced and peaceful year ever!
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas