e-vaughn’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions:

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While a great many folks might venture to say they routinely participate in setting a New Year’s Resolution (NYR), I’ve encountered a relative few that have given the practice the respect it really deserves. It’s a shame because, obviously, intentional goal setting is absolutely vital to the progression of the self. The mindful application of goals is the “decision” to make yourself better. And while goals can certainly be set at anytime, I wholeheartedly believe the “milestone effect” of the New Year, the cultural participation in goal setting, and the dedication of a entire calendar year to one themed goal all make the NYR a practice that deserves our attention. So here’s a helpful guide for picking, choosing, and sticking to your NYR. Through the lens of framing an NYR as a scientific endeavor, it’ll hopefully be a guide that helps you set a reasonable goal that you might stick with all year.

**Choose a Goal Theme:**
This is the first step and often the most difficult, as I suggest you spend some serious introspective time considering your values, current strengths, and known weaknesses. Is your goal going to be physical? Is it health oriented? Maybe you want to build a new skill? What about removing a vice in a restriction based goal? One year I focused on restriction (remove soda from my life). One year I focused on cooking (1 new recipe a month), one year was creation focused (1 new song a month). The theme you set should be of interest to you, and you should attempt to identify why it’s valuable to your life.

*My 2015 Example:* This past year, for instance, I identified that I live a very, very high stimulus life and rarely, if ever, take moments to just “be”, or really attempt to focus my mind on appreciating low stimulation. As such I ventured into a meditation themed NYR.

**Make Your Goal Specific:**

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Quantify your goals: measurement success and failure

While often times people can choose a NYR haphazardly, the first major problem I see is that the goal they choose is way too vague. “Eat healthier” is a theme, not a goal. “Learn to play guitar” is a value goal, which, while ambitious, needs parameters in order to be measurable. Goals should have criteria for success and criteria for failure. You should be able to know if you’re on the right track. You should be able to know when you’re slacking.

These structural focuses take a lot of personal consideration, as you must identify:

  • The intensity of the goal (how hard will it be?)
  • Frequency of measurements (how often do I have to partake in my NYR to stay on track?)
  • Instruments for measurement (how will I be tracking my goal?)
  • What success looks like (when have I successfully completed my goal for this chunk of time?)
  • What failure looks like (is it non completion, forgetting to practice, succumbing to desire to partake when restricting, or an inability to perform at a predetermined success level?)
  • When presented with minor failure, how can you get back on track (what reasonable punishment can be applied to bring you back to a level of success?)

Figuring out all of these things is pretty contextualized to what type of goal you’ll have, but specificity is really important. If you’re going to eat out less for instance, make sure that goal is substantiated by how much you “eat in” and cook at home. You’ll have to identify how much “less” means, how many “eat out” meals you’ll allow yourself per time period (weeks, for instance) and what happens if you happen to have a week where you eat out more than the allotted amount. Choosing a remedial punishment is best done when it’s in line with your current goal. You probably shouldn’t have a body focused punishment is your NYR is memory-focused, for instance.

*My 2015 Example:* Since my goal was a meditation practice, I decided to operationalize that by combining daily routine with 2 types of meditation. I was a gymnast for years, and recalled that during a handstand, the ability of the mind to wander is severely impacted. This 1 minute of handstand forced my mind into a state of focus, and then immediately following that I would conduct 1 minute of focused, empty-mind meditation in a neutral position while attempting to block out all external and internal stimuli. I committed to doing this every single day, which amounted to 2 minutes a day or focus, plus the challenge of actually remembering to do it (I chose not to set a daily reminder, and put that onus of responsibility on my memory). Finally, I knew that I would sometimes forget or fail to do it every day, so my punishment was to add 3 minutes of both the handstand and the meditation to the next day. This meant I could incur debt and pay it off while still keeping on point with my NYR, because that is how I set the rules. I chose a punishment that would be difficult enough that I would not want to avoid my daily commitment (forcing my ass up and at ‘em even after I had already crawled into bed for the night), but not hard to the point that I would want to give up the commitment altogether.

**Hold Yourself Accountable:**

The second biggest threat to a NYR after overly-vague goals is the lack of personal accountability to one’s goals. It’s already a great first step by cognitively walking through the structure of your goal and checking in with yourself about what you could commit to, but the act of holding yourself accountable is pivotal to success. I recommend using a note-taking program like Evernote to keep track of your goal. In essence, this note-taking process becomes a whole ‘nother portion of the NYR, as remembering to keep track of the routine and success/failure criteria is a small challenge itself. As soon as you begin the writing process, you bolster your incentive to continue the NYR, and actually seeing written progress is incredibly motivational.

*My 2015 Example:* Since my goal was measured daily, I created an evernote that detailed my rules and criteria, punishment, and purpose. Then I spent a couple minutes generating a list of every day and made it into one big fat list that spanned January 1st to July 1st, 2015. Daily, I wrote down my success, the amount of minutes I had done, and the amount of minutes I had incurred in debt. I did this daily so that I could see every day’s worth of success, and when I failed to do a day. I wrote details about days that stood out or I had more success with my mindfulness exercise, though this wasn’t a daily focus. Eventually, around July or so, I was so engrained in my NYR that I didn’t need to write my markings daily, and only made notes when I failed a day or had a particular insight. This documentation process ensures that you will have proof of your efforts and struggle at year’s end.

**Find the Value in Your Efforts:**

Finally, as you continue throughout the year, make sure to actually ponder and note what you’re getting out of your experience. What are you learning about the process, how is the challenge helping you, and if you had to change the rules, what would you do differently next year? Make sure, especially at the end of the year, to compare your starting point with where you are now. It helps to write these things down (journaling is an incredibly beneficial NYR).

*My 2015 Example:* It’s nearing the end of the year and I have had routine success in my mindfulness journey. I’ve had moments of energizing success via my handstand/meditation, and begrudging moments of laziness. I’ve taken breaks outside of my high-stimulus life to conduct my goal, and done it on mountaintops, at the top of the Key Arena, in a tent, in my living room, and on sandy beaches (where it kills the wrists). I’ve had success with clearing my mind, but had failure to remove extraneous thoughts more often. I’ve discovered I love stimulation and don’t want to shy away from that. I’ve also discovered that there’s plenty of value in the journey itself, and sometimes overcoming struggle is its own reward.

**TL;DR:**

If you have an interest in setting a NYR, make sure it’s a theme that will be beneficial to your values with concrete and well-defined goals. Identify your success and failure criteria, what remedial punishments can be applied to get you back on track effectively, and make sure to hold yourself accountable by writing down your progress! Last but not least make sure to actively contemplate your experience and the value it’s bringing to your life!

-e-vaughn

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