Making New Year’s Resolutions? Get Clear on Your Values
You’re probably thinking about the approaching new year and perhaps you’re reviewing the year that’s almost over. Maybe you’re happy with how the year went but it is likely that there are things you’d like to see more of, less of, or differently in the new year. New Year’s resolutions are a part of our popular culture and you can see evidence of this in how crowded your gym gets in January.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with making resolutions but I do think they limit us and can also set us up for failure. For example, you can create a resolution to go to the gym five days out of seven and to cut all sweets out of your diet. You know what happens next. The first few weeks of January go well and then you slip up, or drift off, or just abandon your goal in frustration.
If you think about it, there’s something driving your New Year’s resolutions. In the example above you probably realize that you’d have a better, richer life if you felt healthier. Being healthy is something that is meaningful to you.
If being healthy is meaningful to you, then it is something you value. A value says a lot about you: what you think is important in your life, where you want to dedicate your time and energy, and the general direction you want for your life.
Values versus goals
If a value is the direction you want your life to go, then a goal is what gets you moving in the right direction. Goals (including resolutions) are fine but they can be limiting. First, as if often the case with New Year’s resolutions, you may or may not reach your goal. Then what? In the example above, you might not make it to the gym for several days. You might give up in frustration or feel like you failed or you might restart your goal. Even if you meet your goal of five days of gym every week, you instinctively know that there is more to being healthy than just this.
Getting really clear on your values and using them as a guide allows a lot more flexibility and less chances of failure. If your value is to be healthier and you resolve to more fully live this value in the new year, this opens up an infinite variety of opportunities. Yes, there will be days where you make it to the gym and don’t consume any sugar, but there will be other challenging days where you intentionally decide that to live a healthier life will mean having a big glass of water and taking a walk on your lunch break, even though you won’t get to they gym and you ate a cupcake. Did you still move in the direction of a healthier life? Yes! And you don’t feel the guilt and shame of failure that comes with not meeting a specific goal.
New Year’s values
So how can you put this into play? Start by getting really clear on what you value. Think about the various aspects of your life:
your place in and contributions to your community
You can start to think about what matters to you and what will make life more meaningful. You can also use a tool such as a values card sort to get a better understanding of what matters to you.
Once you’ve identified some of your values you can then think about goals and actions that move you in the right direction. It can be helpful to identify a range of possible actions from the small to the ambitious. This will allow you flexibility to keep moving in the right direction without setting yourself up for failure.
Getting in touch with values and being mindful
The final step of implementing New Year’s values is to incorporate them into your daily life. There are lots of ways to do this but I think incorporating some mindfulness and intention can help here.
Here’s a simple exercise that can help: as you start your day ask yourself what, at the end of the day, would make you feel like you were moving in the right direction? In the example above: what will help me feel like I am living a healthy life today? You can then identify a number of actions that will move you toward health. This exercise can help you become more intentional in your actions and mindful as you move through your day.
One tip: even though a New Year’s value gives you more flexibility than a resolution you still need to keep it in your awareness to make change happen. Setting a daily reminder on your phone or a sticky note on your desk can be helpful to prompt you to consider your values and identify actions you might take.
While there is nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions they often don’t work or lead to lasting change. Values can provide a roadmap and flexibility to live a life that matters. As the end of the year approaches I wish you the best for a meaningful and vital new year.