Over the years, I’ve broken many New Year’s Resolutions by mid-February. There are also many resolutions I've kept, and most of those have all had something in common - they weren’t centered on me, but instead were focused on others. Once I began to make some of my annual resolutions externally focused, I was able to create habits rather than just a temporary routine.
An example of an externally focused goal was the resolution to stop thinking so hard about if I should help someone. I decided that if the opportunity presented itself, and I had the ability or means to help someone, I would just do it instead of mulling it over and delaying a decision. Though this was initially focused on others, the benefit to me was great as well - I wasted less time overthinking and learned to confident in my decision making skills.
I’ve also made goals about investing in relationships, and though that benefits me as well, I’m more likely to keep up with it because I feel like I’m letting someone else down if I don’t follow through. Sometimes it’s easier to keep promises to others than it is yourself.
In Gretchen Rubin's book, The Four Tendencies, she explains that everyone responds to expectations differently. She identified four main personality types based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations. Upholders can easily meet outer and inner expectations; Obligers have trouble meeting inner expectations but thrive with outer expectation; Questioners need to ask questions to help make sense out of outer expectations, thus turning them into inner expectations; and Rebels don’t respond to inner or outer expectation - they kind of do what they want when they want. Take the quiz to see what your primary tendency is.
Even if your goal is 100% about you, outward expectations can still help you be successful if you find an accountability partner or join an accountability group. Research shows an increased chance for success when you announce your goal and report on progress regularly. It’s a little harder to let others down than it is to let yourself down - that’s unfortunate, but often true.
But what about a goal that is so private that you don’t want to share it with anyone? Try thinking about your “future self.” This allows you to look from the outside in and think of your future self as almost a different person. You can make a promise to her that you don’t want to break. I love the concept of the future self for goal setting but also for short term motivation. For example we all know it makes sense to prepare the night before to make your mornings go more smoothly, but yet many of us don’t do the prep work regularly. Try thinking about what you owe your future self and how she will feel when you make preparations that will benefit her. This can be for things as insignificant as peeling your orange at home instead of putting whole orange in your lunch bag. Think, “Future me will be so happy she doesn’t have to make a mess peeling this orange at her desk tomorrow when she’s hungry for a snack, and it will help her eat healthier too!”
The future self concept gets really, really interesting even beyond the ways we can motivate ourselves in the short term. Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, explains in his TED talk the difference between the ease of remembering and the difficulty of imagining. Most of us can remember who we were but it’s harder to imagine who we are going to be in the future. Gilbert says, “Then we mistakenly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen.” You’ve heard the phrase, ‘I can’t imagine that’ and usually this is because of the poor imagination of the person saying it, not the unlikelihood that it will actually happen. That excites me - my future truly can be beyond my imagination!
Whether you become accountable to your future self, to your best friend, or to a group of strangers, that accountability will help you create a long term promise that will form your behavior and decisions in the present and the future - and the beauty is the past doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. Goals could be in the form of an educational or professional pursuit, a healthy lifestyle, learning a new skill or hobby, or even focusing on developing or improving a relationship. It might be time to rethink this year's resolutions and determine how to make them outwardly focused - even if that focus is yourself in the future!
Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash
Rubin, Gretchen. The Four Tendencies. Random House USA, 2018.
Wissman, Barrett. “An Accountability Partner Makes You Vastly More Likely to Succeed.” Entrepreneur, 20 Mar. 2018, www.entrepreneur.com/article/310062.
Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash
Gilbert, Dan. “The Psychology of Your Future Self.” TED, Mar. 2014, www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_psychology_of_your_future_self.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!