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You are whole. You are perfect. You do not need to change a single thing about yourself. However, if there are some aspects of your life that you would like to change, the start of the year may be just the time to set goals and make positive shifts.
Although most of us know that January first is an arbitrary date, the tradition of beginning anew and starting fresh has power. In fact, it is beneficial to revisit goals, dream up new ideas, and take stock of how you are living your life at any time. While some people set resolutions for the new year ahead, others like to assess their lives on their birthday, some practice creating daily intentions, and others review their goals on a weekly or monthly basis. Others rarely, if ever, investigate how they are living their lives.
If setting intentions at this time of year brings you joy and inspiration, consider carving out a few minutes to several hours to get curious about yourself. Don’t set common New Year’s resolutions just because your friends did. Take the time to consider the areas in your life that you may like to transform, and use the tips offered below to set some resolutions and focus on them in the year ahead.
How Can You Stick to Your Goals?
So, you set some resolutions for the new year. You start hitting the gym twice a week, putting away a hundred dollars a month, and calling your dad. And then the second week of January arrives, and you are back to sleeping in, spending money on eating out, and putting off that phone call until another day. What gives? Why is it so challenging to stick to goals? What are the keys to successfully sticking to your goals?
As researchers have found, you may have trouble following through if your resolutions feel like something you “should” do rather than something you truly want. As one study describes, “People are most likely to be effective when they pursue goals that either engage their natural interests or express their authentic personal values.” In addition, old habits die hard. It takes many weeks and months to break or create a new habit. Give yourself time and space to turn your new intentions into habits.
Here are some helpful tips for setting—and following through on—resolutions that you will actually want to spend your time and energy working to achieve.
1. Ask Yourself Questions
Imagine you are on a first date … with yourself! What would you want to know? What would you be excited to hear about? What would bore you to tears? Set up a voice recorder or write in your journal that typical date opener: “So, tell me about yourself.” And then answer as best you can. Here are some good starting questions:
- What takes up your time on a daily basis?
- Where do you put your energy?
- Who do you spend the most time with?
- Does anything feel kind of “off” in your life?
- Is your body sending you any messages?
- Are there any glaring areas of physical or emotional discomfort?
- What is going really well?
Let the answers to these questions clue you into some areas of your life where you would like to start making positive changes.
2. Consider How You Want to Feel
Author Danielle LaPorte writes and speaks passionately about setting goals based on how you wish to feel. In her bestselling book, The Desire Map, LaPorte writes, “Everything we do is driven by the desire to feel a certain way. What you buy, what you eat, what you say, who you choose to hang with, the things you make, the people you give your love to, what you wear, what you listen to, what you bring into your home, what you end, begin, and dream of … all go back to the desire to feel good.”
Consider setting intentions based on how you want to feel in several areas of your life. In her book, LaPorte suggests choosing several positive feeling words, looking up the definitions, sitting with the words, and choosing your “core desired feelings” for the year ahead. When you keep these positive—such as courageous, peaceful, rested, purposeful, valuable, at ease, and free—at the forefront of your mind, they can help guide your actions, interactions, and choices. How do you want to feel? And what do you need to do to feel the way you want to feel?
3. Chunk the Areas of Your Life
As you set out to create your intentions, consider what areas of your life in which you would like to create a shift. Do you want to focus on your exercise routine? Your home? Your work life? Of course, each area of your life is connected to the others, so a change in one area could affect change in another. Could you shift your eating habits and transform your workday? Could you take active care of your own mental well-being and experience shifts in your relationships with friends and loved ones? LaPorte suggests choosing core desired feelings for the following areas of life:
- Livelihood and lifestyle: Career, money, work, home, style, space, possessions, fashion, travel, gifts, sustainability, resources
- Body and wellness: Healing, fitness, food, rest and relaxation, mental health, sensuality, movement
- Creativity and learning: Artistic and self-expression, interests, education, hobbies
- Relationships and society: Romance, friendship, family, collaboration, community, causes
- Essence and spirituality: Soul, inner self, truth, intuition, faith, practices
There are several other ways to think about delineating life categories to create intentions around:
- Layers of life: Body, mind, heart, and spirit
- Elements: Earth, water, fire, air, and space
- Chakras: First, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh
- Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
- Physiological needs: Air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction
- Safety needs: Personal security, employment, resources, health, property
- Love and belonging: Friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection
- Esteem: Respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom
- Self-actualization: Desire to become the most that one can be
As you set your intentions, use one of these sets of categories or come up with your own life categories that work for you.
4. Set SMART Goals
Once you have chosen your resolutions, it is of utmost importance to make them realistically achievable. Having the intentions to “be strong” and “get healthy” do not have much meaning unless they are attached to something tangible.
One strategy for making your intentions into attainable, long-term goals is to create SMART goals. “SMART” is an acronym for the following keys:
- Specific: What, where, how, when, and with whom?
- Measurable: Quantity and time?
- Attainable: Is this goal within reach in the time you have allotted?
- Relevant: Does this goal pertain to your life in a real way?
- Timely: What is your timeframe or goal date?
An example of a SMART goal is, “I will run every day for 20 minutes in preparation for a 5K race in July.” Set yourself up for success by being SMART about it. Establishing a routine will help you stay focused and fulfill your goals.
5. Follow Through
Once you have set your intentions, it’s time to stay focused on fulfilling them. Here are some helpful ways to follow through on your resolutions:
- Tell Someone
Sharing your intentions with someone else can make a big difference in helping you achieve success. Find an accountability buddy (your partner, a friend, a family member, an online connection) and tell them about your intentions. Speaking your intentions out loud can help make them a reality. Your accountability buddy can help keep you on track when you are tempted to stray. Your buddy may even be inspired to create some intentions of their own that you can help them with.
- Tell Everyone
Use the power of social media to keep yourself accountable. Post your intentions or resolutions online. Participants in online forums can chime in with advice, tips, and encouragement. You can use this strategy to post updates and allow the group to help hold you accountable.
- Chunk the Areas of Your Life Again
Break down your goals into smaller goals. What can you do today that will help you be further on the path to fulfilling your long-term goals? What is something small you can do today (e.g., call the dentist and set up an appointment) that will be aligned with your bigger intentions (e.g., maintain good physical health)?
- Consider Your Roadblocks
What could get in the way of achieving your dreams? Think ahead to what you may face and think of strategies to get through these challenges. Stress, travel, the season, unexpected circumstances, illness, lack of time, relationships, and job responsibilities all have the potential to throw you off course. Prepare for when you may be tempted to give up and plan ahead. Also, have compassion for yourself if you fall off the wagon and begin again right away.
As you go about setting resolutions, it is important to learn to accept yourself exactly as you are, as well as to continue to grow and aspire to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Have compassion for yourself and where you are. And don’t stress out—stay calm and remember that you do not actually have to change anything about yourself. You are lovable and acceptable. What a relief! And maybe there are some things you want to accomplish in your life. Maybe you want to finally take that trip to Italy and be wowed by the fine food there. Maybe you want to be more patient with your sister so you can cherish the time you spend together. Maybe you want to sign up for those pottery classes and nurture your creativity. There may be some big bucket-list dreams that you want to fulfill. There may be some areas of personal growth that you want to focus on. Whatever direction you choose to go, have fun and be kind to yourself as you ease out of your comfort zone and set goals that will improve or enhance your life.
If you’ve chosen to work on new goals this year, do it wisely. Small changes can have big impacts. Big changes can be achievable if they are broken down into smaller goals. How do you want to feel this year? What areas of your life could use a closer look? Spend time setting intentions with soul and create SMART goals and you will be well on your way to becoming the best YOU that you can be.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
Interested in learning how to become healthier and stronger? Want to choose the best foods, exercises, and lifestyle practices to benefit your unique mind-body type? Sign up for our introductory online course with Deepak Chopra, Discovering Ayurveda, and you’ll discover how to incorporate ancient healing wisdom into your daily life. Learn More.