Maria Bourke: 'How to make effective New Year's resolutions - and keep them'
Small changes are better than no changes - and can make a big difference to your life, writes Maria Bourke
One of the great joys of the Christmas holidays is being able to read the newspaper from cover to cover at a relaxed pace, ideally with a warm beverage close at hand. It's often during this period between Christmas Day and New Year that we are prompted to look back on the year gone by and consider the year to come.
This can be an uncomfortable experience for many, especially if we feel we have let 'yet another year' slip by, and are no closer to realising our dreams and goals.
However tempting it may seem to set no targets, ignoring the opportunity to set life goals or make New Year's resolutions is a similarly uncomfortable path.
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The unhappiest time of my life was my mid-20s. I found myself as a young business executive, with three small children, living the life many would have dreamed of - beautiful children, happy home, career, company car. What more could a girl want? In all honesty, I did not feel I had the right to feel unhappy, but I repeatedly found myself in floods of tears.
Having achieved my goals for my Inter (we're talking the 1980s) and Leaving Certificate and graduating with honours from college, I had never set another personal goal. There were work goals - and I was achieving them - but I had nothing to aim for, for myself, so lacked any real sense of personal achievement.
When I realised what the problem was, I set myself some goals, achieved them, and then set some more. Some 25 years later, setting goals is as natural and essential to me as breathing.
If, this time next year, you would like to be reflecting on 2019 with a greater sense of achievement, here's what you can do now. Before we start, remember we are never too anything - young, old, fat, thin, rich, poor - to dream a new dream or set a new goal. Likewise, don't be caught up on the words. If goal is your preferred word, set yourself goals. If dream is your preferred term, write down your dreams. It might be a good idea to grab a pen and paper now and work through these suggestions. Whether you call them goals, dreams or targets, they require action, and now is the perfect time to start.
1 Do a 'wheel of life' review. It will highlight where you believe you are now and where you need to focus to bring more balance into your life.
Draw a circle on a fresh sheet of paper. Like a clock, create 12 segments. On the outside of the circle, turning the page as you write, label the segments as follows:
Personal and spiritual development
Significant relationship (aka love and romance)
Fun and leisure
Physical environment (where you work/live)
Putting something back (community work/ volunteering)
Me - what are you really doing for you?
Now score yourself on each segment by making an arc that reflects where you are, versus where you would like to be. The centre of your circle is zero. The circumference is 10.
How does your wheel look? Would you trust it on your car? Are you having a bumpy ride? Do not fear. I have rarely seen a balanced wheel from anyone who is not consciously trying to create balance in their life.
In my experience, by focusing on one or two areas, you will have a knock-on effect on your whole life.
Can you identify the key areas you need to focus on? For example, a focus on your career could have an impact on your finances which in turn impacts almost every other segment.
Over the years, when I have felt overwhelmed by life, I have had a practice of reviewing or re-doing my wheel of life. This has helped me put things in perspective. By identifying the one or two key segments to focus on, instead of feeling life was impossible, I regained a sense of 'I can do it!' and was able to forge ahead.
2 Set meaningful goals. We often fail to take action on our goals and dreams because they are not really important to us. They may even be someone else's idea of what we need to change. (I call these the 'shoulds'.) If you start with the end in mind, you will have a vision for your life and your legacy that is meaningful to you.
Start by imagining your funeral. Given the life you are leading now, how would you be eulogised by:
A family member?
A work colleague?
A member of your community?
It would be beneficial to write out what each person would say. Are you happy about this? If not, how would you like to be remembered? What needs to change?
Take some time to reflect and write out your answers.
This is an amazingly simple yet powerful exercise that yields clarity and perspective.
Remember, Alfred Nobel got his wake-up call and started the Nobel Peace Prize after reading his obituary, written erroneously in a French newspaper in 1888, naming him The Merchant of Death. It was his brother who had died.
This is your invitation and opportunity to get yourself on track.
3 Having a sense of your legacy, where do you need to be in five years, three years and at the end of 2019? Work through each time period. The more time you give yourself to reflect, the greater the clarity and the easier it will be to work towards your goals and dreams.
4 Knowing where you want to be at the end of 2019, look at all areas of your life using the 'wheel of life' headings and write out at least three goals you want to achieve per segment this year.
5 Break your 2019 goals down into steps, and put these steps in your diary, calendar or phone.
6 Discipline - do a weekly review of your progress. This is both to keep yourself on track and acknowledge and celebrate your successes.
Learn to give yourself credit for what you do achieve in the week. If you deviate from the plan, do not be discouraged. It's never too late to start again. Every single day is an opportunity to do just that.
7 Honour your commitment to yourself the way you honour your commitments to others. Many of us fail to take the time we need for ourselves, feeling guilty if we put ourselves first. This is your life. Do you want to look back later with regret? Remember Serena and Wayne Dyer's book title: Don't Die with Your Music Still in You.
If it helps, make a date with you in your diary and keep it!
8 Find a buddy and set up monthly reviews to motivate and support each other.
This is something I find vital for progress.
As a self-employed singleton, I know I achieve more when I am accountable to someone else, and I know that someone else really believes in me and my dreams.
It is important that you find someone that is the right fit for you. This can take some time. You may already know who the perfect person is.
9 Finally, remember that small changes can make an enormous difference in the long term.
A ship that leaves port and changes direction by only a few degrees, ends up at a completely different destination. So do not discount the power of making the small, comfortable changes. Small changes are better than no change.
Life is an amazing gift. We are all born with incredible potential and promise. I hope you take the opportunity to make 2019 your best year to date.
Maria Bourke is a life coach, personal empowerment facilitator and author. She has created several online challenges to support and empower people in their daily lives.
The Focus 2019 Challenge has exercises for reflection and action that will further help and support you through the steps outlined above. For more information, see www.inspiraction.ie/focus-2019-challenge