life

One Thing At A Time: Why Most Resolutions Fail Before February

February 7, 2022

Thank you to Basecamp for sponsoring this episode.

Reading Time: 11 minutes

One Thing at a Time: Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail Before February

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. We make a list of goals, resolutions, dreams and ideas that we’re so excited about! And then life happens, we hit roadblocks and feel like giving up. Find out 3 simple steps for hitting reset on your goals and starting over when you’re feeling discouraged.

I’m going to be honest. January was a really tough month.

In January, I kicked off the month with that New Year, New Goals excitement of having the next 365 days ahead to tackle my goals and kick off new habits. 

But then, very quickly – reality set in.

Everyone – me, my husband Scott, my girls – we all got sick at some point in January. My girl’s school was closed at different points during the month because of Covid – so that meant that while my husband and I worked at home, one of us had to be on childcare duty. Plus, we tearfully said goodbye to my Yorkie Penelope after having 14 wonderful years ago. 

It felt like January just went off the rails. Keeping up with work was a challenge, much less kicking off new goals and habits. 

The tending list page in my Cultivate What Matters power sheets barely has any checks at all. 

Maybe your January was amazing! Maybe you hit your goals, checked off boxes in your habit tracker, kicked off new habits with success and you’re feeling on top of the world! And if so – I am totally cheering you on!

But if you’re like me and maybe January didn’t quite have the fresh start feeling you were hoping for, I’d like to welcome you to Fresh Start February. The month that we recommit to moving forward together with a fresh start, no matter what happened in January. 

And if you’re finding this episode at some time of the year that isn’t February – just keep in mind that ANYTIME is a good time for a fresh start. 

So in today’s episode, I’m diving into

  • The big reasons why we give up on our goals and resolutions so easilyWhat exactly a word of the year is, and what it’s not
  • How to deal when all of your best laid plans fall apart
  • 3 Ways to hit the reset button and keep making progress on your goals
  • You’ll also hear the right way to use a habit tracker – yes, there is a right way to check the box for maximum impact.

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I’m going to cut to the chase.

The biggest reason why we give up on our New Year’s resolutions, our goals and our new habits is because we don’t have a plan.

Here’s what usually happens. We set goals. We make a list of resolutions. Maybe we’ll fill out our Cultivate What Matters powersheets, or we’ll use another goalsetting workbook or those beginning pages in your planner that help you prioritize how you’ll spend your time.

Then, the list just kind of sits there. Even if we post it on the wall where we can see it and keep it top of mind – a list of goals is just a list if you don’t have a plan in mind or a plan in place for how you’ll actually start, maintain, move forward and cross the finish line. 

We kind of just assume that our work is done once we set the goals – I mean, a lot of time, goal setting itself is hard enough. That’s why it’s easy to skip or procrastinate. The time it takes to think through the past, look around at the present, and then look ahead to the future – you can’t exactly tackle it in a quick 15 minutes. 

Sometimes the goal setting process alone can take you a few days – especially if you have little ones and big responsibilities. 

So by the time you polish up your goal list, making sure they’re SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound – it’s easy to kind of feel like your work is done.

When in reality, it’s only the beginning. 

The easy part is setting the goals. Making the resolutions. Writing the bucket list. Dreaming the dreams.

The hard part – the part that really counts – is the doing. The action taking. And before the doing and the action taking comes the planning. 

The reason why we give up on our goals, resolutions, our bucket list and our dreams for the year is because we don’t have an actual plan in place. 

When you don’t have a plan in place – you’re kind of just assuming that you’ll just know what to do, how to do it and when to do it and that the time will kind of magically appear for you to do it. 

And sometimes even when you DO have a plan in place, when life happens and all of our normal plans and routines are disrupted – I know that happened for so many of us in January for a whole host of reasons. It seems like every day I chatted with a friend who was working from home with a kiddo nearby due to a school closure or sickness. 

Even when you do have a plan in place, it can be incredibly discouraging when things don’t go as planned, and you start to feel “behind” on your goals. You start to think – maybe I’ll try again next year. Or maybe I won’t try at all because clearly I’m not good at this resolution / goal stuff. What’s the point when nothing goes as plans.

I get it – and I feel you. It can be so frustrating to have big ideas for the year, and then feel like you’re constantly dodging obstacles and not getting anywhere. 

Sometimes things just don’t go as planned, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw all your plans away. Every day is a new day, and Any day can be a good day for a fresh start.

When you’re feeling discouraged. When you’re looking at your empty habit tracker with no checks or x’s. When you feel like giving up – you can hit the reset button.

So here are 3 steps to hit the reset button on your goals, plans, ideas and dreams for this year. 

Before we even get to Step 1 – I’m going to create a Step 0. Think of this as the reset before the reset.

Step 0 – Give yourself some grace. Cut yourself some slack. It’s okay. 

Failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you tried, and learned. Take what you learned and keep trying.

Life happens, but we keep going. 

At our house, we’re big fans of the kid’s TV show Bluey featuring a cartoon family of dogs living in Australia. Bluey is a 6 year old blue heeler, and her little sister Bingo is a 4 year old red heeler. In one episode, Bingo and Bluey were bringing Mother’s Day breakfast in bed to their mum. Mum’s name is Chili, by the way. Anyway, Bingo trips and the food flies everywhere. She runs away and cries. 

Mum’s advice to Bingo when she’s upset is this: Have a good cry. Stand up. Dust yourself off and get back to it. 

If you’re disappointed, it’s ok. Let yourself be disappointed. But the year must go on, so let’s dust ourselves off and get back to it!

On to Step 1.

Step 1 is to Prioritize. Or possibly re-prioritize.

Another big reason why we give up on our goals is because we accidentally tried to start them all at the same time.

Telling yourself you’re going to stop eating sugar, run 3 miles a day, wake up at 5am, start a business, and renovate your bathroom all in January? Well – that’s a lot. That’s a WHOLE lot of new.

So instead of making your Fresh Start all about starting everything – pull out that list of goals or resolutions or habits you want to start and rank them. If you could only start on ONE thing on that list. And you weren’t allowed to start on anything else until you finish, or totally nail that one thing? What is that ONE thing you’re going to start on. 

The thing is – it requires a LOT of energy and thought and intention to get something new off the ground, especially if it’s something pretty new to you – like eating in a new way or working out regularly. 

So instead of dividing your energy across 7 different new things – when you pick one you’re able to get some traction in a way that builds momentum. You’re able to really make big progress on one thing – the most important thing on your list, before you start adding in new things. 

Let’s take this one thing at a time. 

Instead of stopping the sugar, running 3 miles a day, waking up at 5am, starting a business and renovating your bathroom – maybe you commit to just waking up at 5am each day – and you use a habit tracker to keep up with your streak. And you really ingrain waking up at 5am. Then, when you’re ready to run 3 miles a day… or 1 mile, or half a mile whatever – it’ll be a tiny bit easier to get started because you’re directing your “getting started” energy to running.

Step 1 is prioritize – review your list of goals, resolutions, dreams and ideas and decide what order you’re going to start each one. Because starting too many new things at once is a great way to get overwhelmed and give up.

Step 2 is Plan.

Yup – We’ll stick with the wake up at 5am example. If you’ve never been one to wake up at 5am, chances are it’s not going to be super easy for you. Maybe it will be! But chances are it will be new territory and a new challenge. That’s why having a plan for what you’re starting is so important.

When you’re creating your plan, ask yourself questions like these:

  • What is your first step?
  • How will I start?
  • What can I do to set myself up for success?
  • What can I do to failproof my goal? 
  • How can I create accountability?
  • Should I use a habit tracker?
  • What are the steps involved?
  • Can I break this goal into smaller steps or milestones?
  • What do I need to learn in order to be ready to start or improve once I get started?
  • Do I need any tools or equipment?

All of these questions are so valuable in creating your plan for following through.

So let’s say you want to start waking up at 5am. 

You might ask yourself – What can I do to set myself up for success?

Ok – that could look like setting my alarm on my phone, and putting my phone across the room, or I could put my phone in the bathroom so I have to walk in there to turn it off.

I could plan to get a good night’s sleep each night before so when the alarm goes off, I’m well rested. I should probably figure out what time I should be in bed, and therefore what time to start winding down.

Alright – if I’m waking up at 5am, I now have more time available in the morning – what am I going to do with that time so I’m not tempted to go back to sleep?

Ok – I could stretch, do a Yoga with Adrienne video, make breakfast, go for a walk perhaps… 

What can I do for accountability? I could put a habit tracker on the wall in the bathroom or in my closet so I can put an X everytime I wake up on time. I could also see if any of my friends want to be 5am buddies and we could text each other. 

What can I learn about waking up at 5am? Well there’s that Miracle Morning book by Hal Elrod- maybe I could check that out?

See what I mean? We’re asking questions that help us formulate a plan. 

This takes Wake up at 5am from being an idea on a page to an action you can take regularly. You know exactly what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, what you need to learn, and how you can stay accountable. 

It doesn’t get much more specific than that. 

So step 1 is prioritize.

Step 2 is plan. 

And step 3 is Put it in your calendar.

This is the kicker, and the step that most people skip – which is why so many dreams, resolutions and habits bite the dust.

When you put time for whatever it is – running 3 miles, planning your sugarless meals, waking up at 5am, renovating your bathroom – when you don’t give it a place on your calendar, it’s basically invisible

You’ve heard me say before that calendars are for so much more than meetings. Timeblocking is taking things on your to-do list and putting a block on your calendar to represent the time you’ll spend doing that thing. It’s like scheduling a meeting with yourself to do something specific. 

Once you’ve prioritized your list and made your plan, block time in your calendar to take action. Having this activity visually represented on your calendar makes it more real, makes you less likely to skip it, and it helps you be realistic about how much time you actually have to spend on your goals.

Recently I was talking with one of my time management coaching clients who has set a goal to deepen her faith in 2022. So I asked her to tell me what that means to her. What does that look like? To her – that meant reading her bible regularly, doing bible studies and listening to faith-focused podcasts.

My next question was – Wonderful! When do you plan to do each of these things?

And she hadn’t really thought through that part yet. She just kind of assumed she would do them whenever they crossed her mind. 

So instead, she pulled up her ideal week – and an ideal week is a template for how you’d like to spend your time each week, I talk all about creating an ideal week over in Episode 48. She pulled out her ideal week and decided what she would shift in order to create intentional time blocks for deepening her faith through those activities. 

That’s how it’s done y’all. 

You prioritize, you plan and you put it in your calendar. 

So if you – like me – are in need of a February Reset. Fresh Start February – or literally Fresh Start ANYTIME, prioritize, plan and put it in your calendar. 

Oh! And I mentioned habit trackers earlier – I want to clear something up for everyone. Did you know that there’s a right and a wrong way to use a habit tracker to reinforce your habits?

The Right Way to Use a Habit Tracker

Many of us will use a habit tracker to track multiple goals or habits that we’re working on. And then, at the end of the day, we’ll look back on what we did or didn’t do and will put Xs or check marks in the appropriate boxes. 

While that’s a great way to keep a record, it’s missing one vital ingredient.

You see – one of the benefits of using a time tracker is that it can serve as an external reward for completing the habit. If you’ve listened to Episode 11 then you know that three parts of a habit are the cue, the routine and the reward. The cue is the thing that triggers the habit. The routine is doing the habit. And the reward is the way you feel, or how you celebrate doing the habit. The reward can be intrinsic, like a feeling of accomplishment, or it can be external – like putting an X on a habit tracker or giving yourself a treat. 

In order to reinforce the habit, you’ve got to feel the reward pretty soon after the routine. So when you wait until the very end of the day to put all of the check marks and x’s in your habit tracker, your brain doesn’t actually connect the X with the habit. You’re not getting the benefit of ingraining the habit with a reward. 

So – next time you use a habit tracker to reinforce a new habit, instead of waiting until the end of the day to make your checks, put your X on the tracker as soon as possible so your brain ties the reward to the habit and it becomes ingrained faster. You can learn more about the anatomy of a habit in Episode 11, and if you head over to Episode 40 – there’s a 30-habit tracker you can download that helps you map out your cue, routine and reward and track your progress. I’ll link both of those in the shownotes. 

And there you have it!

Life happens. Things don’t go as planned. But just like Chili told Bingo, we can have a good cry, stand up, dust ourselves off and get back to it. 

Give yourself Grace. Prioritize. Plan and Put it in your calendar.

Links & Resources Mentioned in Episode 112

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