I know what you’re thinking. “What?! I came to this website for some motivation! Prepare for failure? This is the exact opposite of what I need!!” Bear with me. When you choose to make resolutions, are you addressing your areas of strength or weakness? Exactly. I find it somewhat amazing that when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve, resolution-makers suddenly expect perfection in the very areas of life where they are the weakest! So, what happens with many people is that they will make a resolution (usually one that involves quitting something) and as soon as they have broken their resolution, they lose motivation to continue on with it because, well….it obviously didn’t work out. The expectation was that they would quit smoking but they finally caved and had a cigarette. They were going to start exercising three times a week but sometime in late January, they got off track. The new diet was going well until the two birthday dinners over the weekend. But somehow they got derailed and now all they have is a broken resolution…and broken resolutions aren’t easy to keep.
This response is natural. We had a goal. We didn’t achieve it or have suffered a significant setback. We become discouraged. Or the perfectionist within says that the resolution was broken and that’s it. Another unfulfilled commitment. There is also another natural human response and that is that once we give in to temptation, it is easy to give in again. “One more couldn’t hurt”. “Well, I screwed up. I might as well continue.” “My expectation was that I would do this or not do that, but I failed.”
Part of our response has to do with the fact that we made a covenant with ourselves that we would act a certain way and we did not live up to our commitment. We broke an agreement. When we break a resolution, the resolution becomes less meaningful, less important, less sacred. Part of this response also has to do with the fact that we had expectations of ourselves that we did not live up to and can’t live up to. When making resolutions, we often give ourselves one or two times to succeed and if that doesn’t work, then we assume we’re just not ready yet and shelve our goals for a future year.
When making resolutions, it is critical to allow for failure. When making resolutions, it helps to make a contingency plan for when or if you do fail. This is something that I learned how to do over the years. It is actually simple. Make resolutions within a resolution. As part of the resolution, make a rule that if you don’t follow the main resolution action item, then you will do something else. And then make a rule that if you fail to do that, you will do something else. Make sense? Not necessarily? Okay, I’ll give you an example.
Let’s say my resolution is to quit smoking. Knowing that I am weak in this area and knowing that my level of resolve will fluctuate throughout the year, I will structure my resolution to allow for the possibility of failure. So, here is an example of a resolution to quit smoking:
1) I am going to quit smoking this year.
a) For every cigarette that I smoke, I will do 25 push ups within a week.
b) If I should violate that rule, I must spend at least 15 minutes reading an article on the dangers of smoking.
c) If I should violate that rule, I will purchase a book on the subject of smoking (can use for the 15 minute readings above).
d) If I should violate that rule, then I will find someone to hold me accountable to my resolution (within one month).
The above is just an example but illustrates what I am talking about. In this resolution, you can fail on occasion to keep your main commitment but still keep your resolution. Psychologically, it gives you the assurance that you are still following the resolution. And the things in your resolution that you are required to do when you fail (your “built-in consequences”) are geared toward getting you back on track with your main commitment. These extra steps within your resolution do not have to be difficult or time-consuming. They are meant to be mild deterrents and they are extra guard rails to keep you from falling off the cliff. You can be creative about how you create your contingency plan. You can set up as many guard rails as you want. The bottom line is to allow for failure and don’t let failure sidetrack you from fulfilling a resolution.