Invariably, there’s a lot of chatter about resolutions this time of year. Every January we seem to have a collective epiphany about eating better, saving money, and getting in shape.
Real talk about resolutions: You probably won’t be a fundamentally different person in January than you are in July. So why do we all try to make a change at the same time, and why are the changes so often doomed to fail?
According to psychologist Timothy Pychyl, a big part of why so many new year’s resolutions fail is that they’re a form of “cultural procrastination.” They’re habits we wish we could change, so we use the resolution to try and motivate ourselves in the future rather than today.
That’s why, in lieu of creating resolutions scheduled to kick off on January 1 (after I’ve eaten all the cookies and drunk all the eggnog), I strive to use the end of the year to reflect about how I want my life to look.
If you want to make goals that stick this year, here are the three strategies I use personally and with clients to set intentions.
1. Create an “Eff Yeah” List
In January of 2012, I used what Nicole Antoinette, host of the Real Talk Radio podcast, called her “eff yeah” list to reflect about my greatest accomplishments the year prior. With that list in hand, I strived to identify more of those fulfilling opportunities moving forward. The list helped me quit my job, manage a political campaign and start my business.
Antionette suggests creating, “That list of badass things you accomplished throughout the past 12 months – big and small – that makes you want to dance naked around the kitchen with pride.”
To make your own, take some time to reflect on what you are most proud of from 2016. When did you feel like your best self? Consider:
- Professional accomplishments
- Tricky situations you handled
- Particularly meaningful feedback, compliments, or praise received
- Times when you were gentle with yourself, etc.
These aren’t necessarily the moments that are impressive to others or would make it onto your resume. They’re the ones in which you were most fulfilled and in your element. For me, it was a fun list to create.
When a colleague presented me with the campaign opportunity in 2012, I knew it aligned with how I wanted to spend my time and what I wanted in my career because I’d already done the reflection about when I was the happiest in the year prior.
2. Make goals that reflect what you actually want, not what you think you should want.
After you’ve made your “eff yeah” list, notice patterns. When I did this exercise at the end of last year, I noticed that a lot of the moments I listed centered around public speaking. I started 2016 with a handful of speaking engagements, but by June I’d changed my business model to include public speaking as a key source of revenue.
Had I not started with the list, I might have thought, “I should get more clients in 2016.” In service of that, I could’ve ended up taking on projects that weren’t as exciting. Instead, I got more clients by figuring out how I wanted to spend my time, what I was good at, and what I enjoyed most.
Look at your “eff yeah” list and build goals focused on creating more opportunities that might prompt you to dance around the kitchen naked in 2017.
A client in a goal-setting group I hosted created her “eff yeah” list last January and decided that she wanted a new job. We were scheduled to meet quarterly, and when we got together in March, she was on track, having been networking and submitting applications like crazy. But when we got together again in June, she told the group, “I didn’t meet my goal because I decided I didn’t want to anymore.”
Despite receiving a job offer that met many of the criteria she’d set in January, she realized it no longer aligned with what she wanted her life to look like. In doing the job search, she recognized there was a lot she liked about her current position and the flexibility it afforded her. She wasn’t so myopic that she achieved her goal at the expense of her long-term happiness.
As my client found, just because you said you were going to do something doesn’t mean you have to. It also doesn’t mean that you should give up on your goal entirely. Another way to look at my client’s goal was that she wanted a more fulfilling professional life. She was able to achieve that without leaving her current role.
This time next year, I hope you’re reflecting on your goals, proud of what you accomplished in 2017. That may mean achieving what you’d expected to the letter or scrapping it completely to align with what you really want. I’d consider either a success.
A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.