February is a month of crushed dreams. And not because of all the Valentine’s Day disappointments.
Every year I watch my friends set New Year’s resolutions. And after about a month, I see activity and excitement deflate and most of them go back to their old routines, the routines that didn’t include the newly set goals.
New Year is just another excuse, a timeline we fool ourselves with. “I’ll start [insert your resolution here] after the holidays” or “OK, this time I am serious. In the New Year I’ll…” – these are just some of the things we tell ourselves. We are waiting for January 1 as a date that will allow us to start new, to wipe the slate clean, as if some miracle will happen once we cross that mark. The problem is that once the first month of the year is over, the excitement of “starting new” is gone and we are left with the rest of the year and a lot of hard work ahead of us. And suddenly it’s easier to just drop out and wait for the next year and another chance to start anew.
Here is the thing.
I love deadlines. As a business and team leader and a strong project manager I put enormous value on goals and schedules. In my professional world, for everything to run smoothly and on time, one has to stick to specified parameters.
But personal resolutions are different. Some require us to significantly alter our lifestyle. It also requires us to prioritize ourselves, which usually comes in last (after work, kids, and other commitments). Staying fit is hard. Eating right is hard. Raising kids is hard. Finding time for your passion projects is hard. The list goes on. It’s easier to postpone our personal goals, coming up with every excuse to do so.
That’s why I think New Year’s resolutions are useless. Birthday resolutions and I’ll-start-the-next-month resolutions also don’t work because we look at them as big audacious goals. We psychologically equate resolutions with big change. And no one likes change. The more we try to break our lives out into chunks (twenties, thirties, forties, or next month, next year, next decade), the easier it is for us to come up with excuses.
But if we stop living by the calendar and start living day-to-day, it becomes easier. If we incorporate small changes into our routine and do it gradually, the change comes more naturally.
Start by not looking at your life in terms of time chunks. It’s your life and it’s continuous and if you want to improve anything about it, today is the day to do it. It doesn’t matter what day of the month or year it is.
Once you welcome that mentality, start by implementing small things into your daily routine immediately. Small changes are key. For example, if you want to spend more time with your child, save 10 minutes every other night for reading a book together, then over time make it a daily activity. Or if your goal is to lose weight, start by eating small portions for a while, then add another step such as taking stairs instead of an elevator, then add another routine such as five weight-lifting exercises every other day that might take 15 minutes of your time, etc.
I took this approach over the past two years and saw change happen slowly, but surely. One of my goals was to lose weight and feel better, so I added four behaviors to my routine over time and lost over 15 pounds in under a year (without dieting). I wrote about it in my earlier post “How to Lose Weight and Stay Fit While Working Insane Hours.” Notice, I started my journey of accomplishing this particular objective on a regular day in the middle of October, not on January 1.
So if New Year’s resolutions don’t seem to work for you, stop making resolutions. And start implementing small changes, today.
Originally published on Inc.