I’m convinced that creating goals or resolutions is hardwired into us, because we can’t stop making them.
Unfortunately, we’re not as equipped for making the goals come true, and the pattern most of us have seen is that we start a goal with optimism, only to be disappointed when we haven’t done much after the first week or so.
Instead of goals or resolutions, try to make rules
Goals… or rules? If you just don’t seem to be reaching your targets, I’d like to suggest that you try something different: creating rules that will help you make your goals happen.
A rule in this case is an action you do after a specific event happens, as consistently as you can, which will lead to your goal happening.
Some rule examples for different goals
1. Write a book: When I turn on my computer, I will shut off the browser and all other programs but my text editor, and write for 20 minutes. No excuses.
2. Learn Spanish: When I drive to and from work, I will listen to my Spanish tapes and practice.
3. Read more: When it’s 9:30 p.m., I turn off the computer, get ready for bed, and read my book.
4. Run a marathon: When my alarm goes off at 6 a.m., go out and do my run for today (or stretch if it’s a rest day).
5. Lose weight: A) When it’s breakfast, I eat oats, cinnamon and berries. B) When it’s lunch or dinner, I’ll have black beans, brown rice, veggies, salsa and guacamole. C) If I’m hungry in between, I’ll eat apples, carrots or plain nuts. D) I drink only tea or water, except a cup of coffee to start the day.
6. Be more mindful: When I wake up, I pee, drink a glass of water, then meditate for five minutes.
None of these rules will get you all the way to the goal, but they’ll get you much farther than you are now.
Implementing the rules
Of course, a rule is great in theory, but much harder to put into practice. So I’d like to make a few suggestions:
7. Implement one at a time. When you’ve done one for a week or two, then implement another, but never have too many going at once. I’ve found that five fairly new ones are my max.
8. Make each one small (5 to 20 minutes for something hard, up to 30 minutes for something easy).
9. Don’t expect perfection — allow yourself to mess up, but try to do better.
10. If you keep messing up, set up some accountability, or change your environment so it’s easier to implement.
11. Don’t start with food rules. Food is the hardest, because we’re not really aware of all the things going on, like emotional eating or parts of our brain sending hormones to make us really hungry. When you do food rules, do one at a time, and try to change your environment so that there aren’t tempting foods all around you. If you can’t get rid of the foods, don’t go where they are very often.
12. Mindfulness rules are the best to start with, because they make following the other rules easier.
13. Set computer or phone reminders, or put up visual reminders like notes wherever the rule is supposed to happen.
What you’ll find is that the rules need adjusting as you figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. You’ll find that you forget at first — in which case you should set reminders. You’ll find that some rules really need a change in environment, others might need accountability. What you’ll learn is that this is an incredible learning process, as you start to understand how you work best.
Rules are small steps that add up to huge changes over time, and they’re ones that you’ll actually make happen. What one rule can you create today that will have a big impact on your life?