The best resolutions - the ones worth reaching for - are those that fulfill our values and needs and help us build towards long-term goals. But how do we make sure we fulfill those resolutions?
Ah, January. The month when folks make lofty goals for everything they want to accomplish in the new year. Are these goals in line with their core values? And how many will look back when December arrives with the satisfaction of knowing that they achieved their goals? This year, make meaningful resolutions with a lasting impact on your life, and commit to your resolutions.
Resolve to fulfill your resolution.
To resolve means to find a solution or to firmly determine to do something. Making a "resolution" is actually a pretty serious commitment. If you’re repeatedly failing to fulfill your resolution, then there are at least three possible reasons why:
It’s not a resolution that you actually find fulfilling. Maybe hitting the gym everyday works for your neighbor, but it’s just not for you. That’s cool, bro. Stop forcing yourself to hit the gym everyday. Take it down to a few days a week, try another time of day, or other ways to stay fit. Try out your local climbing gym, walk dogs at the animal shelter, bike around your local public park or trail...whatever, just mix it up and try some different things until you figure out what works for you.
You don’t have a plan of action. You’ve resolved to get fit, but didn’t make a realistic plan for how you would do it. It's like having a destination with no clue of how to get there.
You made a resolution that has no set end. For example, you resolved to “get healthy” but never defined what “healthy” means or took into account that health is a lifelong endeavor. You’ll always need to eat well, exercise, and get regular check ups from your doctor. If you don't have a definitive goal, then you don't really know how to track your progress.
Resolutions that could actually work.
How do you make a resolution that could actually work? Follow the classic SMART framework for making a resolution.
R, realistic and relevant
Let's take a look at some examples of SMART resolutions.
"In 2020, I will only spend 4/5 of my monthly income on expenses, saving 1/5 of my monthly income until I have 3 months worth of income saved for emergencies. I will keep a budget with my app and track savings with a print off that I will keep on the fridge. I will also have a weekly budget check-in meeting with my spouse to talk about our finances and make changes if we need to. Based on my income and goal, we can reach this goal by September if no financial emergencies (like a car accident or health emergency) arise.
"In 2020, I will improve my relationship with my parents. I will call them weekly on Sunday afternoons. I will ask how they are, what activities they have been doing, upcoming travel plans, and their health to stay up-to-date on their lives. In the event that I get frustrated or angry during our conversation, I will take a long, deep breath and change the subject to one of the topics listed above. After doing this for three months, I will reflect on how our relationship is doing; if it is getting easier and more habitual for me to call and/or I have less anxiety/fear/anger before and during our calls, then I will know that I am making progress in improving that relationship."
“I resolve to give 10% of my income to charity each month, and save 15% for emergencies and retirement. In order to reach this financial goal, I will reduce restaurant spending to two times per week, cancel my cable and gift box subscription, and look for cost-free ways to spend time with loved ones, such as a game night or movie night-in, visits to the park, making a meal at home together, or going for a hike. In January, I will make a budget and track my spending using a budget app. In February, I will implement my resolution. In March, I will look back to see how my spending changed from January to February and then adjust my budget as needed.”
"In 2020, we resolve to become better communicators in our romantic partnership by checking in on one another's mental and emotional health once per day, and having a 'date night' once per week. We will also attend couple's counseling at least once per month, but more often if needed. In the event that conflicts arise, we will seek mediation to have an expert facilitator help us communicate and resolve our conflict."
These are just some examples of how you could start to think about constructing a SMART goal.
What happens when you fail?
We all fail.
Read that again. One more time. WE ALL FAIL.
Failure is part of the human condition. That’s true for me, for you, for your grandma, for that neighbor you can't stand...for all of us. Sometimes life happens and suddenly you popped a tire when you let your car break lose and you slammed into a curb. Other we just didn't plan well. Maybe we overestimated what was realistic. Shit happens.
I know that I’m going to make a mistake, slip up, and then be tempted to stop doing everything because of that mistake. So I pre-plan for mistakes. I ask myself: what happens when I fail? This is actually a great idea because it opens the door to recognize that (a) we’re not infallible and do make mistakes and that (b) it’s okay to make mistakes, but you need to have a plan for the “what now” question when mistakes are made.
In November 2019 I had set money aside to take my dog in for her annual visit. Not to be overshadowed, the cat then demanded I take him to the vet by developing a medical issue. I did not anticipate the cat's expenses. Pet care that month, between normal care and pet sitting for work travel plus the vet, cost me $1,000. Y'all. That shit shook me. It felt like my entire budget was so fucked up that there wasn't even a point to keeping track of it anymore.
Did I throw away my entire budget and say “screw it!” Nope. And I didn’t just say “nope” because financial coaching is my jam. I said “nope” because that would be a decision that flies in the face of many of the values I hold dear, including environmental responsibility What did I do instead? I adjusted. I pulled money from other areas, ate what I had in my freezer and my pantry (it got weird y’all) and tightened up the household budget. And, by the way, the animals are just fine!
Resolutions that are usually a good idea.
The best resolutions are the ones that fulfill your values, needs, and long-term goals, and for which you have a SMART plan that accounts for mistakes and obstacles along the way. Think about what you truly deeply value and what resolutions you know you can achieve despite the roadblocks that might be in your way. A resolution isn’t a flippant idea, it’s a tangible goal that you can achieve. This year, resolve to make your resolutions meaningful and SMART.