Compass, map, and pencil

Let’s talk resolutions.

Today you are likely either laying in plans to make the 2015 version of you the best you yet, or you’re feeling smug about not making any resolutions this year because everyone knows they don’t work. For both the cynical and optimistic among you, I would like to share how I’m creating New Year’s resolutions that (hopefully) don’t end up being too irritating or unrealistic to follow through on.

Why “creative and compassionate” resolutions, you may ask?

Creative because life gets in the way of all our plans, and indeed, snickers at the idea that we’ve bothered to make them in the first place. Because any long-term plan for change has to be flexible and adaptable to survive. Because I don’t know about you, but “Be more organized! Get in shape!” really does not inspire me much. Because I do not lead a one-size-fits-all life, and neither do you.

Compassionate because we can and will mess up, despite our best intentions. Because it’s important to gently acknowledge and accept where we are now as well as where we want to be. Because it’s easier to un-give up when the resolution doesn’t stem from the assumption that we’re broken. Because change takes a shitload of tenderness and support to take root.

Intentions vs. Goals and Where They Fall Short

There are two common ways of approaching NYRs, and while they both have positive attributes, they tend to fail during long-term execution.

The “intention” approach.

If you favor this approach, there are things you’d like to change – to have more or less of in your life – but you don’t want to lock yourself down to any specific action steps. You want to be open and spontaneous as to how they happen. These are often focused more on being vs. doing, as in “Be more ___,” where ___ can be anything from “generous” to “grateful” to “healthy”.

The problem with this approach is that without any kind of real-world action steps, they can stay misty and conceptual – hard to actually incorporate into your daily life.

The “goal” approach.

These are all about the action steps, and you may prefer this approach if you like checking things off a list or learned in some kind of self-development arena that goals aren’t real unless they’re measurable. These are the “Go to the gym three times a week” or “Write down five things a day I’m grateful for” types of goals.

Where these fall short is that you can get caught up in the process or outcome and quit or get discouraged when you fall short of your metrics for success.

The Unsurprising Solution

I bet you know where I’m going with this – the key to making resolutions that stick is incorporating aspects of both approaches. You need both the eagle-eye vision of what you want and (most importantly) why you’re doing it, and the mouse-eye vision of how you’re actually going to get there.

Here are the steps I’ll be using. I’ll list them all here and then we’ll go through them one by one.

  1. Start with an area in your life of lower satisfaction.
  2. Know what changes you want to make.
  3. Know why you want it – what experience you’re hoping for.
  4. Identify what would support you in having that experience often.
  5. Brainstorm action steps to get that support in place.
  6. Switch between big and little picture (or eagle/mouse-eye view) as necessary.

Let’s do this!

1. Start with an area of less-than ideal satisfaction.

Example time! Like many people I know, I have just a few tiny issues with my body, food, and movement. I’ll go with that one because I know it’s so common. If you are totally cool in this area, I hope you’ll pick something else to play with. Work/life balance? Organization? A project you’re working on?

2. What do you want?

In previous years (pre-coach training), I would have said something like, “I want to lose [x] pounds, or start eating better, or exercise more.” You can see how some of these “resolutions” are intentions and some are goals.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting these things, but they’re framed in a way that’s really hard for me to follow up on or find satisfying – especially when they’re for an entire year! What does “better” mean, in this context? Or “more?” And am I not supposed to be happy with myself until I’m the ideal weight I’ve arbitrarily decided? In short, these are the kinds of resolutions that get lost in the shuffle by February.

This is an important step, though, because you need to get those desires out where you can explore them in depth. So write them out and don’t judge them for being too vague or specific yet.

3. What is the experience you’re looking for? How are you hoping to feel when you have (or accomplish) what you want?”

In this example: I want to feel at home in my body and in my skin. I want to feel confident. I want to feel grateful for all the amazing things my body can do. I want to have a functional, stress-free relationship with eating and food. I want to be able to move free of pain. I want to be able to love myself the way I am right now, regardless of of any changes I may or may not make. In short, I want a healthy, compassionate relationship with my body, food, and movement.

Yes, this is an intention, not a goal. But you need to tap into that beautiful, bone-deep desire to find the hope and inspiration when action steps just aren’t doing it for you. We’ll get to the specifics in a bit, I promise.

When I examine the deep desires behind my dissatisfaction with [body stuff], it’s clear that joining a gym won’t automagically solve all my problems – so the “work out x times a week” isn’t the best place for me to start. Besides, I know from experience that I’m capable of not feeling fit/thin/healthy enough at a variety of weights – the way I perceive my body is about my thoughts and feelings, not my body composition. So it’s the experience that I want to base my resolution around, not the outcome I’m hoping for.

3b. Who is this change for – really?

It can be easy to make resolutions in line with your “social self” – the part that helps you function in society and also keeps you constantly updated on how you’re doing compared to everyone else (as well as making its best guess as to how everyone perceives you).

The desire for acceptance or approval from my friends/family/colleagues is a powerful motivator, but I don’t want that to be the only reason to make a change. I want to do these things for me – and it’s important to do a gut-check and make sure I’m actually making resolutions in line with my priorities. Also, I don’t want to make changes out of fear.

4. What will support you in having this experience on a regular basis?

Now that I’ve identified my resolution, I want to weigh the odds in my favor so that I can give myself as much positive reinforcement as possible. I don’t want to have to live up to some future ideal version of myself before I can be happy with where I am and the progress I’m making!

Here are some ideas I came up with for supporting a healthy, compassionate relationship with my body, food, and movement.

  • Wearing clothes that make me feel good about myself.
  • Treating mealtimes like special occasions, like the Anne Lamott Anti-Diet suggests.
  • Experimenting with ways to make cooking and shopping easier.
  • Moving in ways that make me feel good, and trying to incorporate more movement/body positions throughout the day, a la Katy Bowman.
  • Taking care of my body in other ways, like getting plenty of sleep and getting checkups.
  • Identifying positive examples that model my ideal relationship (i.e. the Healthy At Every Size Movement).

This is like the half-way point between intentions and goals. I’ve gotten closer to the real world, but I need to get more specific to help these support systems take root. The above ideas are still fairly vague in terms of execution.

(Side-note: I believe that stopping here is where a lot of resolutions fall short. It’s so easy to make a declaration of intent to eat more healthy, home-cooked meals, but what about when you’re exhausted at the end of the day and all you have in the house is frozen pizza and peanut butter? Change – especially new change – needs extra support and attention when you start out.)

5. What specific action steps can you take to put these supports in place?

Now we’ve moved over to the other side of the resolutions spectrum to the “goals” side. Here is where we get into the quantifiable, do-this-in-real-life, check-this-off type of stuff. This is where we create our road-map for how we’re going to get to the real destination – the experience we outlined in step 3.

I’m going to look at the first idea I wrote down above: Only wear clothes that make me feel good about myself. For this to occur regularly, there are several things that need to happen.

The first two are fairly obvious and common-sense:

  1. Try on my existing clothes and donate the ones that don’t fit or suit me.
  2. Be more discerning about what clothes I buy in the future.

A lot of times, goal or resolution-setters stop here. And so would I (literally, as in writing down these steps and quitting), if I weren’t a life coach. Because you know what?

Taking action will bring up your stuff. And if you’re not prepared, it can totally derail you.

Sorting things, getting rid of things, and buying things can bring up a huge amount of stuff. Stuff like:

  • Failure-stories when trying on something that used to fit and doesn’t anymore.
  • Wastefulness-stories and money guilt when getting rid of something that’s expensive but not your taste.
  • Ingratitude-stories when getting rid of a gift that doesn’t suit you.
  • What-happened-to-my-life stories when getting rid of clothes that don’t suit your current lifestyle (do I really have to admit I’ll never ski again?).
  • Who-do-you-think-you-are, you’re-not-cool/rich/thin-enough stories when contemplating buying new clothes.

5b. So the last thing on any of my action-step lists is to acknowledge all the mental stuff that comes up when I try to do the other items.

The amount of time we think it will take to do something like go through a closet and the actual emotional and psychological processing time involved are rarely simpatico. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s hard not to feel ridiculous when it takes you an hour to get rid of two scarves and a sweater. So I have to try extra-hard to be conscious of the stuff, be gentle to myself, and realize its presence doesn’t mean anything about me.

And all this is just for one item! On a list of six ideas! That all tie in with one of my resolutions! Yeah, it’s a lot more involved than writing down “Lose 10 pounds” or “Go to the gym 3x/week,” but it’s a lot easier for me to imagine myself actually doing these things.

6. There are many roads to Rome (and they look different to an eagle than to a mouse).

When I get too focused in on the specific way something has to happen, or start confusing the outcome with my experience, it’s easy to get discouraged and quit altogether when I over-commit, get overwhelmed, and stop doing the thing I said I would. That’s why it’s important to have that overall vision of my desired experience, because then it’s easier to be creative about how to get there.

In the example of “have a compassionate, healthy relationship with my body” resolution, I have so many different ways I can practice. I may fail to get eight hours of sleep or get out for a walk every day, but I can still find other ways to show my body love.

It’s kind of like your morning commute. You know where you are, where you want to go, and the way you plan on getting there. But what if there’s an accident or construction on your normal route? You’re not going to say, “Welp, guess I’m not going to work today!” You either know the neighborhood well enough that you easily find a detour, or you look at a map and figure out an alternate route.

It’s a delicate balance of eagle perspective, where you can see the ultimate destination laid out before you, and mouse perspective, where you’ve worked out the nitty-gritty details of all the ways you can get there. And when one of your mouse-trails ends in a dead end, you can always go back to eagle vision to see what your other options are. By switching back and forth, you can create a flexible, adaptable, creative path to lasting change that respects your process and is forgiving when real life intervenes.

For the curious, here are the rest of my resolutions intentions for 2015:

OWN being a writer and coach.
Rest more, play more, trust more.
Judge less.
Make time for joyful connections and intentional community.

I’d love to hear if your resolutions are looking different after reading this article. Please feel free to share your resolutions in the comments or e-mail me if you’d like to share them privately. I’d love to cheer you on! Much respect to you and your process.


Will 2015 be the year you decide to embrace progress instead of perfection? I’d love to help you defrost your dreams and find new ways to motivate yourself. Contact me for a free assessment or learn more about working with me.

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