updated December 2020
I want to learn to speak Spanish fluently. And after 3 years of almost daily Duolingo lessons, I’m getting there.
I’d had it on my list of New Year’s Resolutions for almost a decade. Have you realized that New Year’s Resolution is a short-hand way of saying this part of my life that I’ve been trying to change for the last ten years?
But when I think about it, I realize that my Spanish, while not fluent, is actually not horrible. I can read esta bien, but my conversational skills need some work still. That’s not great, but considering I took 4 years of Latin in high school, it isn’t bad either. So maybe I have been moving in the right direction. All those years of putting it on my “to-do” list for the year paid off a bit.
Even gradual personal growth is still personal growth. I’m thinking about how I can actually make my New Year’s resolutions a valuable tool, instead of a meaningless gesture.
Make New Resolutions Today for Success Tomorrow
It’s the perfect time to map out your goals for next year. Instead of leaving your wishes and wants until the last minute, a little pre-planning can go a long way.
Don’t resign yourself to the idea that “I am as I am” and that there is no changing it.
Don’t give up on the new and improved you too quickly.
Do approach how you create change in a different way. Adopt some new ideas on how growth comes about and you’ll see some remarkable results.
Here are five steps that will make this year’s resolutions, and your personal growth goals, stick:
1. Create a Vivid Mental Picture
The human mind is a powerful tool, but you have to aim it at something. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case they are right.
One of the most powerful things you can do to drive new behaviors is to create a clear picture of what it’ll look like once you’ve obtained your desired goals.
If your goal is to lose weight, than have a bright, Technicolor image of what the lean, mean you looks like. If it’s to become more confident, see a clear mental image of you as a poised, self-assured person walking into the room. Even if it’s far from where you currently are, even if it seems fantastical right now, you have to see where you want to go.
2. Treat the Problem, Not the Symptom
Too often we want easy (and fast) answers to life’s challenges. That leads us to metaphorically put “band-aids over broken legs” and wonder why things don’t get better.
For example, if you watch too many YouTube videos whenever you get stressed, you’ll keep putting fix-it hacks and apps into place with little success. You have to learn how to process the underlying stress that causes the negative behavior.
Many of the challenges we face are surface manifestations of deeper issues. If you want to create personal growth in your life, you have to give up the old you to become the new you – dig in to the root causes and change them.
3. Take the First Step (and Make it Small)
People often get discouraged by change because they attempt too much too fast. Most people look to make huge leaps instead of making small and steady changes. Then they either don’t act because those changes are so daunting, or they quickly revert to their old habits because they are so far out of their comfort zone.
You might have heard the old saying about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. It’s the same with creating change in your life. If you are tired of eating 3 donuts every morning, try cutting back to 2 donuts first instead of nixing them completely.
Just like a physical muscle must be gradually strengthened, so too must your mental muscles. Discipline is developed one decision at a time.
4. Have the Right Perspective on Failure
I think formal education does a disservice to young people when it makes them fear failure in any form (my stomach still gets in a knot at the idea of getting an “F”). So we learn to avoid failure at any cost, and will even avoid making changes because of the fear of future failure.
To take away the mystery right now: You will fail often as you try to incorporate changes into your life.
Every time you don’t follow your new plan, look at it as simply a pothole in the road. It can be an opportunity to recommit, to reconnect, or get feedback on the direction you’re going. Failure is an event, not a person – when you fall off the horse, just get back on and keep riding
5. Understand that Patience Really Is a Virtue
Not only does a proper perspective on failure help, but also a long-term perspective. For example, say you’ve been running late to things all of your life. You make a commitment to be on-time from now on; which lasts about 4 days until you find yourself running late one day.
Don’t give up, personal growth is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you started exercising in an attempt to lose weight, would you expect all of the weight to go away the first day? Of course not. When you are working on creating a new behavior you are literally creating new roads in your mind, new neural pathways. The more you perform a new activity, and the longer you do it, the easier it gets. Be patient with yourself.