There are three areas in life where we make resolutions: clinical (how you feel), relationships (marriage, dating, family friends, work) and performance (dreams, goals, talents, accomplishments).
Many of us will make New Year's resolutions in the next few days in one or more of these areas, but there's a problem with those resolutions. Most of them will be based on will power, commitment, or trying to make better choices.
While commitment is important, it always fails without another ingredient: we have to develop the capacity to reach those goals. Research shows that people who succeed do so by opening themselves up to capacity building from the outside.
How do you get that capacity to succeed and make sure 2013 is not what I call a "groundhog year"?
You're going to need two things: 1) a new energy source and 2) a structure or template to guide that energy. For example, if you want to stay on a diet, you need the energy of a support group and the structured guide of a program plan of diet and exercise. That kind of structure in any endeavor along with energy will close the gap. It can be a coach, a buddy system, an accountability partner, joining a program or reading new books—there are a million different ways to structure a growth pattern, you just have to get in one. Having said that, I'm going to give you a few more tips:
First of all, the biggest mistake people make is trying to accomplish the goal based on commitment and trying harder. That will fail.
Instead, get together with people who are already accomplishing what you want to accomplish. If you want to become healthy, you have to surround yourself with a group of people that are getting healthy and you have to be connected to a community that is doing what you want to do. That is why programs such as Weight Watchers, or other support communities are so powerful.
If you want to become more spiritual, you've got to get connected with a group of people that are growing in that area, instead of just thinking you will do it and sustain it on your own.
We know from research that growth is actually contagious so if you want to reach your goals, you've got to get around people that are going in the same direction you want to be going and you will catch the success. The data proves it.
Also, expect to fail. That's right—both you and I—nobody gets it perfectly all the time. Here is what's actually going to happen: you're going to blow it!
If your resolution is to lose weight, there will be a time when you're going to eat five days worth of Weight Watchers points in one day. Don't interpret that as a horrible thing, that's a normal part of the process.
The problem is that people blow it and then they feel bad about it. Then they go off and binge eat in order to get over feeling bad about it and then they drop their whole plan altogether.
Instead, when you blow it, accept your setbacks as normal.
Don't use all or nothing thinking. Take each day as its own day and don't worry about it if you mess up one day. The most important thing you can do is just get back up on the horse.
Remember: perfection goals fail, while "get better goals" succeed. Just do better tomorrow than you did today.
Next, ask yourself, "why hasn't this worked before? How did I fail last year?" We don't usually need new ways of failing; the old ways tend to work just fine.
Are there people that normally get you off track? Do you have trouble saying no? Do you fail one day, get discouraged and quit? Do you fail to protect the time you need in order to get things done?
I remember when I wrote my first book, "Changes that Heal," I never could find a way to actually get it done. Then I thought to myself, "why have I not been able to do this before?" I had not been able to do it because I had never blocked off the time that I really needed to finish the project. So, I made a commitment and a priority that for the next six months from Friday when I got off of work at 5 o'clock until Monday when I went back to work that I would lock myself up and I would not do anything but work on my book. I had just one exception to the rule and that was that I'd let myself go out to dinner for two hours on Saturday evening. I said no to everything that would interfere with my plan and I had accountability with others.
You've got to set some boundaries to protect what you're trying to build. When you put your New Year's resolutions into your schedule, you have to figure out where the power drains and old patterns of failure come from and begin to say no. It's important to create some very protective boundaries.
Another important item is to have sub-goals. You're not going to lose 100 pounds immediately but what is your plan for tomorrow? Go on a 45-minute walk and work up a brisk sweat? Here's an example of sub-goals: when I was writing my book, if the whole book was 100,000 words my goal for tomorrow might be to write 2,000 words.
If your resolution is to get out of debt, you can skip eating lunch out each day and start sending that money in to pay off credit card debt. Then, voila…in six months that credit card might be paid off. As you'll begin to see, your daily goals help you fulfill your larger goal. Sub-goals are very, very important.
Lastly, also remember that the goals you choose are important, too. Some goals are not going to fulfill you. Choose goals that you value and care about.
Do all these things and I bet 2013 will be better than 2012.
Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist, leadership consultant and author of the book "Boundaries for Leaders" to be released by HarperCollins in April 2013. Follow Dr. Cloud on Facebook and Twitter.