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New Year resolutions are NOT meant to be broken

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

It's that time of the year again. The new year has started. With it comes the promise of endless possibilities, wildest dreams, and new ambitious ambitions (yes, it is intentional).

After the disastrous 2020, we have pinned our hopes to 2021. It is supposed to make up for everything we missed in the last year, preferably with interest, and that too compounded. We will sit back and let the universe do its thing. After all, it's the same universe that gave us COVID-19 without any warning. Therefore, it is the universe's responsibility to fix it along with everything that has gone wrong in our life since birth to compensate for 2020. If only.

Let's take the example of losing weight. When we visualize our weight loss journey, we aim to start by working out for 2 hours, six days a week, eat only salad, crush it in the gym like Dwayne' The Rock' Johnson and achieve our goal in the first three months. We will get rid of unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle choices, which led to the weight gain we have accumulated over the years overnight. On 1st January, we expect everything to change magically. Not really. The onus of making the change to achieve the goal is on us. And long-lasting changes take place deliberately and gradually.

Any day in the year is as good as any to make the change you want to. But we have been conditioned to procrastinate and delay. So we usually pin our hopes on the new year. However, all our problems do not disappear at midnight on 1st January. They stay the same, and they will remain the same unless we do something about them. It is easy to say, 'I want to have a better life'. But why and more importantly, how? From my personal experience, I have learned a few things which simplify the whole process.

1. First, sit quietly for 5-10 mins and try to visualize how you see yourself five years from now? Do you see yourself teaching kids in an African village, probably a very well-paid corporate job in Mumbai or New York, or maybe with a family of your own in a Swiss chalet? Whatever it is, imagine it and, most importantly, write it down in a diary. There is a unique power in putting your thoughts on paper and making the imaginary tangible.

2. The next step is to try and answer why you want whatever you just wrote down? This is very important as it helps segregate what we are made to believe we want from our lives from what we really want. There is so much information coming to us from all directions that sometimes we lose sight of our thoughts and opinions. Do you want to work in a foreign country because you want to challenge yourself, OR your aunt's kid did the same, and now your parents expect you to do one better? Think, because it is your life, and it is your responsibility to first understand your own dreams before fulfilling someone else's.

3. Now that you know your expectation, think about what you can do this year to turn the expectation into reality? I prefer breaking it down into 1-3 concrete steps, which become our current year's goals. Yes, three is more than enough, even though you think that even ten may not suffice. You need to reach 'that' place in 5 years. So 2-3 steps done well every year translate to 10-15 actions in 5 years.

The effectiveness would depend on how detailed you can be while articulating those steps. A generic 'Lose weight' is rather broad as there is no challenge or end in sight. 'I want to lose 30kgs over the next two years' is specific, measurable, realistic, and time-related (Google SMART criteria for project planning). Also, it is vital to set goals that scare you a little. Suppose you set a goal that is easily achievable without much work or thought. In that case, you are aiming for something which is below your real talent and potential.

4. The next step is to break down these three goals of the year into quarterly targets. The worst thing that we can do is sit on our goals for the first nine months and then try to achieve everything the last 2-3 months to fail miserably and then give up the whole process altogether. After all, whatever happens, happens for the best right? That's one way of saying that I am too lazy even to try, so I will let life take its course. Sometimes, if you're lucky, it may work. But more often than not, you fail to reach your full potential.

5. Finally, you need to decide the steps you need to take daily to achieve those quarterly goals: things that need to get done, day in and day out.

Taking the earlier example of losing 30 kgs in 2 years. I may split it by 15 kgs each year, roughly 4 kgs each quarter, which means a little over 1 kg every month. To lose a kilo each month, I may need to work out 30 mins every day or maybe 1 hour every two days, watch my diet and try to maintain a healthy routine. Start small, but start. Even if you work out one day consistently every week throughout the year, that is 52 times more than last year. Even if you lose only 4 of those 15 kilos, it is still closer to the target of 30 kgs than what it would be if you did not lose a single gram. Quoting Bruce Lee, "A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at."

You see what I have done here. I started with a grand 5-year vision, broke it down to a few starting steps for this year, further broke it down to quarterly goals, and finally, the actions to achieve those goals. It is similar to what we did for nearly 12 years in school. There is a world of topics that we are taught. They are broken down by years, semesters, subjects, etc. If we make a list of all the topics we learned in our school life, we would be dumbstruck (I was!). But because we were taught a few concepts in a chapter in a subject consistently over a few years, it was never daunting. Life is no different. In fact, with age, we become better equipped to do this on our own and at our own pace.

A new year is similar to a blank page. It's a fresh start for whatever you want it to be. Healthy lifestyle, a new job, entering into a relationship after ages, speaking to that friend with who you lost touch, saying sorry for the mean thing you said to Mum ages ago, being more mindful, restricted hours on the screen, etc. The list is practically endless and unique to everyone. But as exciting as the prospect is, there is nothing more daunting than a blank page as well. Because the page would not fill itself up, you need to draw on it. You need to put the pencil on the paper and take the chance of making mistakes, correcting them on the way to create that masterpiece. It may not turn out the way you expected it to be, you pick another page, and you try again, and you do this until you are at peace with the result.

"The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score." — Bill Copeland.

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