It's that time of year again, that horrible time when most Americans set themselves up for failure about what they are going accomplish/change in the new year.

But it doesn't have to be that way. You can make a change, if you do it right.

First of all, recognize what a New Year's Resolution really is. An admission on your part that something about your life needs to change. That is a great first start and should be viewed as a positive step in the right direction. No real change can occur unless you first recognize the need.

But this is where most people get derailed.

The key to successful resolution is to set yourself up for success instead of failure. Failure is set up when you say something like, "I'm going to lose 30 pounds this year." And then you decide that you need to cut your caloric intake down to 1,200 a day, and you need to go to the gym and work out like a maniac five days a week. When you set unrealistic goals, you set yourself up for failure, especially when you make yourself miserable by trying to implement too many changes and make those changes too radical.

If you decide you want to lose 30 pounds, set up a realistic set of goals that set you up for success and are easy to accomplish. For instance, one thing you could do to lose weight is to not eat after 7 pm — or at least 3 hours before bedtime. But let's say you're the kind of person who likes to eat potato chips or a bowl of ice cream while watching TV at night. Well, you've just set yourself up for failure because that is a major habit to change.

Try this instead. Instead of saying that I'm never going to eat after 7 pm again, make it simple. Decide that in the month of January I am going to pick one day when I don't eat after 7 pm. Think about that for a moment. In an entire month, all you have to do is pick just one day that you don't eat after 7 pm. I'd be willing to bet that anyone is capable of fulfilling that goal. Once you are successful accomplishing that goal, then you attack February.

What's your February goal? Simple. If you could pick just one night the entire month of January in which you didn't eat after 7 pm, surely you can pick two nights in February, right? So, it's really that simple. All you have to do in February is pick two nights in which you don't eat after 7 pm.

On to March…

If you could pick two nights for the entire month of February that you wouldn't eat after 7 pm, surely you can pick four nights in March, right? But let's put a little twist on it here. Four nights sounds like a big number, and we want to build up slowly so that we can ensure success. So instead of going with four nights that you don't eat after 7 pm, let's just with one night that you don't eat after 7 pm — one night a week, that is. It's basically the same as picking four nights, but seems easier by making the number smaller. So for the month of March, you pick one night each week in which you don't eat after 7 pm. Any night you want each week. It can even be different nights each week.

You see what's happening here? We're setting ourselves up for success instead of failure. We are performing a small task that over time will add up to weight loss, instead of focusing on "losing 30 pounds," a big goal that most of us will give up on because it takes so long to get there. We focus on easy to accomplish goals that make us feel good about our accomplishment and are leading us slowly, steadily and surely to our ultimate goal.

On to April…

In April, we simply stick with the pattern. We did one night a week that we didn't eat after 7 pm. Now we just need to do the next logical step, pick two nights a week that we don't eat after 7 pm.

On to May…

In May we pick three nights a week to not eat after 7 pm.

On to June…

In June we pick four nights week to not eat after 7 pm… but with one caveat. We make one of those nights either Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

So here we are, sxi months into the year and we've made a major change in behavior and done it in a manner that set you up for success instead of failure. We attacked a problem the same way you eat an elephant. One bite at a time!

So what do we do in July? The same thing that we did in June. The goal now is to take the new habit that you've developed — not eating after 7 pm four days a week — and continue that habit for the rest of the year.

The next thing to do is realize that changing major habits is not something that you have to do for the rest of your life. Let's tackle another big New Years Resolution: quitting smoking.

Most people make the mistake of thinking that they have to quit smoking for the rest of their lives. You don't. And thinking you have to quit smoking for the rest of your life is setting yourself up for failure.

You don't have to quit smoking for the rest of your life. All you have to do is quit smoking for the next hour, or the next 30 minutes, or the next five minutes, or as small a time frame as you need to come up with to set yourself up for success.

If you can quit smoking for the next five minutes you have accomplished a goal and you should feel good about yourself. But you'll still want to smoke, right? OK, that's no problem, you can fix that. If you made it five minutes once, you can surely do it again, right!

After you do five minutes for a while, you can surely bump it up to seven, eight, nine or 10 minutes, right?

That's what you do. You keep bumping up it and setting yourself up for success.

But what if you have a setback? No problem. We're all human and make mistakes. But in this case, the mistake is easy to fix. Why? Because remember the goal was not to quit smoking for the rest of your life, the goal was to quit smoking for five or seven or 10 minutes. All you have to do is go back to what you know you know you can do (i.e. you know you made it 7 minutes without a cigarette), a time frame that you know you had success with and then build on it from there. Remember, not smoking for the rest of your life — well that's a huge commitment. But not smoking for the next seven minutes — well, you can do that; heck, you already have!

No matter what you're New Year's Resolution is, set yourself up for success by breaking it down into small, doable bite sized pieces.

Whether you are going to be more patient this year, or kinder to those around me, or more tolerant, or lose weight, or stop smoking, or whatever, you need to think of the bad habit you're going to break as a camel.

Why a camel? Well we've all heard of the straw that broke the camels back, right? But we all know that it wasn't that one straw that his back, it was the cumulative effort of all the straws tossed on his back one by one that broke him.

When it comes to changing bad habits, we have to remember, we didn't just develop them over night. We developed them cumulatively over the years. And the best way to break them is slowly and steadily over time.

Most of us make the mistake of thinking that we have to toss giant hay bales onto the camel's back to break the bad habits all at once or cold turkey. The reality is that if we set up daily (preferably even shorter) goals of simple things we can do today (and I can't emphasize enough how important it is that goal be simple to accomplish), what ends up happening is that over time, day by day, hour by hour, we toss single strands of hay onto the camel's back, and over a period of months or even years, we become the person that we want to be and eventually, the camel's back breaks, and we realize that we are no longer a slave to that old habit, as we've developed new, better, more positive habits.

No, it's not the overnight change we all want to make to become the superman we believe/dream we can be. But I'll bet most of us would be satisfied if with getting a little better hour by hour and day by day, and two years from now look in the mirror and see we've become the superman we always wanted to be. And when that time comes, step by step incremental success will have become such a habit we'll be able to see another superman we can strive for two years down — and our lives, our goals and our dreams will expand.


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