5 Simple Tweaks to Make Your Resolutions Work
Resolutions are like baking. Everybody wants to get into it around the holidays. The results? Highly variable.
How do some people make those perfect sugar cookies? And just how does your auntie get that mousse tart so, dare we say it, moist? Okay, baking talents are as varied as opinions on what makes an ugly sweater ugly but in a cute way, but as long as you follow some basic principles, you can bake something that’s more than just edible.
Here are the equivalents of those basic principles, but for resolutions:
1. Bring your resolutions into the present
For most of us, resolutions live somewhere off in the future. The trouble is sometimes resolutions stay off in the future, always out of reach.
One basic rule to master resolutions is to put them into the present. A good way to do that is by doing something now that will help you move toward your desired goal. Yup. Right now. Not “next year.”
Say your resolution is to master Mandarin grammar. Well, you could schedule some Mandarin lessons right now or put some time on the calendar to review every day. It doesn’t have to be a big step, just something that you can do now, not later, to ground your resolution in the present moment.
Remember, action is the antidote for procrastination.
2. Make your resolutions all about you
No, this doesn’t mean your resolutions need to be selfish. Self-improvement benefits others too. This is about making your resolutions about who you are. Not to get too deep, but about who you are within your soul.
We tend to think of resolutions as something we do, but if you believe that what we do defines who we are, all you have to do to do what you want to do is reverse the order: first you are, then you do.
Sometimes wisdom comes in tongue-twisters?
In other words, you step into a new identity rather than try to work in a new activity. Say you want to really commit to studying more Mandarin this year. Instead of trying to find all the ways to accomplish that, what if you thought about it from the point of view of already being a committed Mandarin student?
When you are, the doing follows. It seems like something Yoda would say or some weird reverse psychology thing, but it’s really just plain psychology. You change your underlying identity to create new behaviors that will help you get after your resolutions.
3. Change the way you talk about resolutions
Language is a powerful thing. We often take for granted the power of how we phrase things to, well, change things. A simple tweak in how you talk about resolutions can make all the difference.
To try out an exercise proposed by author and psychologist Rick Hanson, consider the example above where you decided this year, you would become a committed Mandarin student.
Notice how we didn’t say a “good” student, because that comes with its opposite, a “bad” student or even a “so-so” student. And how do you even define those? By choosing words like “committed,” or even “whole-hearted” and “tenacious,” it helps to keep things positive and focus on those qualities which we can truly own.
Ok, so to try the exercise, you would say something like “As a committed Mandarin student…” and then fill in the blanks. Drawing a blank? Here are some phrases you could try on for size:
“As a committed Mandarin student…I enjoy practicing my Mandarin with peers of all levels in the Hangouts.”
“As a whole-hearted Mandarin student…it fulfills me to put my heart and soul into my Mandarin lessons, especially when I make mistakes and improve through them.”
Go ahead. Try it.
Even if it sounds silly to say these phrases to yourself, putting them into practice is sure to transform the way your resolutions work.
4. Create a theme around your resolutions
Remember that baking metaphor from way at the beginning? If I was actually baking something, I would have probably forgotten it in the oven by this point—which explains why you’re not getting any actual baking advice from me.
But anyway, when you bake a cake, you create a “theme” for your flavors. Coconut and cherries and chocolate could be a “theme” because all those flavors go well together (think German Chocolate Cake). Marzipan, basil and coffee not so much.
Just like having too many competing flavors in your cake probably won’t make a very tasty cake, having too many resolutions can be equally as challenging. But that doesn’t mean you have to scale down.
You just have to get smart about creating a “theme” with your resolutions, and pick activities or goals that will complement each other. Say you want to spend more time with the family and eat healthier. You could pick up family cooking classes. Another combo could be fitness and reading more books, since you can listen to audiobooks (or our Chinglish podcast) while you work out.
You get the basic idea. How you put it into practice is totally up to you. And that’s the fun part!
5. Allow time to bake
There is a little something called the compounding effect and it basically says that tiny actions add up to big results. James Clear probably says it better than that in his book Atomic Habits.
The real magic of baking happens after all that time in the oven. We tend to rush resolutions because we waited until the end of the year to get our act together. But just like you can’t rush the magic of baking, resolutions need time before we start seeing results.
If you’ve failed at the art of fluffy muffins or fudgy brownies, it usually isn’t because you got it all wrong. It’s all about simple tweaks that make all the difference. And though resolutions aren’t as much a science as baking, the same principle applies.
What are your resolutions this year?