How to turn New Year’s Resolutions into actions

By Dr. Albert Viljoen

“If more people preached what they practiced, the world would be in a terrible state.”

A toddler’s biggest challenge is to do what they are told. If they don’t, they can plead ignorant, or just plain naughty. For the rest of us, it’s not that simple. We don’t have the same amount of time left to outgrow our naughty streaks, and ur biggest challenge is no longer doing what we’re told, but doing what we already know.

Knowing better is not the same as doing better.

Bridge the gap between resolution and action

For better or for worse, your brain has been hardwired into habits. Most of the things you do in life – right and wrong – is a combination of habits that you’ve trained your mind and body into. And changing these habits take  practice. So how can you turn those fantastic insights about life into practical action-plans?

Step 1: Start a “Turning Wisdom into practice” journal

Journaling is a powerful tool to help us change our way of thinking. In some ways, it’s like writing yourself a manual for life. You do this by turning each day into a learning experience. The structure works as follows: simply answer the following few questions at the end of each day.

Q1) What happened?

Record the data of any main events of the day. No emotions or interpretations.
Eg: I went into work. I worked at the computer, and when my colleague interrupted me, I snapped at him. 

Q2) How did it make you feel?

This is where you add your experience about the event. It’s important to distinguish experience from events, since this is where the learning happens.

Eg: I felt annoyed because I had a lot of work to get done, but when I snapped at my colleague, I felt guilty and annoyed with myself. They don’t know I have a deadline, and now I’ve been mean to them.

Q3) What is the lesson?

At this point, you think about what you would like to learn from the specific experience. It can be any lesson: but it needs to be something that is TRUE to YOU.

Eg: I need to slow down and plan my day. I also need to find a way to tell my colleagues not to bother me when I have a deadline. That way I won’t get angry at them for no reason. I need to exercise in the morning so I can be more relaxed at work.

Q4) How do we apply this lesson tomorrow?

From point 3, you can turn the lesson into an action: something you can implement STRAIGHT AWAY.

Eg: I will set my alarm for 6am tomorrow, and go to the gym.  Then, I will create a red card that i can stick on my computer screen. I will email everyone at work that when the red card is up, they shouldn’t interrupt me, and rather send an email, or wait for my break. This way, I can focus on my work, decrease my stress and better manage my relationship with my colleagues.

The journaling is a practical way to run through a day, summarise any events (good or bad), and turn everything into a POSITIVE lesson. Q4 is the important part of the exercise: it’s the bit where you turn any ideas into actions.

Read  How to keep that summer holiday feeling!

Create practical reminders

Changing one behaviour like the example above, is fairly straight-forward: You simply notice your behaviour, decide what needs to change, and create an action-plan.

Habits can be a bit more tricky. We tend to fall back into them before we even know it: you might lose your temper; find yourself half-way into a packet of Lays chips or snooze your alarm before you even think twice.

To break these habits, we can build practical reminders to help us do exactly that: Think Twice. Here are some examples:

1) Write a post-it note of truths that speak to you

Writing your own truths, like the lessons from your journaling, or from personal experiences, are more powerful than simply reading affirmation cards written by someone else. Your own life-lessons have a lot more power, because they have personal meaning, and emotional memories attached.

2) Set a reminder on your phone

If you decided, for example, to be more patient with others, set a reminder on your phone to ring every 2,5 hours, that asks you: “How can you practice patience at this very moment?” You may be surprised how often the reminder goes off at the very moment when you need it most! And it helps you take a breath, and practice this vital skill. The great thing is, you can set the reminder for anything: “What can you be grateful for right now?”; “How can you practice self-kindness right now?”; “How can you slow down right now?”; “Have you moved yet? How about a walk-break?”; “Did you drink water? Get up now and refill your glass” etc.

3) Wear, or set up a physical object or reminder

Some people like to wear prayer-beads to remind them to pray, or to be grateful; others wear pendants as reminders to be patient, or to pay attention to the beautiful things in life.

You can use anything that works for you, as long as it is physical, visible and meaningful to you. For example:

  • Change the background of your smartphone or computer desktop to an inspirational picture, message or a person who is important to you.
  • Wear a significant object, like a cross / other jewelry / a pebble / photograph / physical trinket with significant meaning to you.
  • Put up post-it notes with specific messages on your desktop / wall / bathroom mirror.

All these are great ways to help remind you of the changes you want to make, but the main work for you will still be to follow your own advice: to practice a specific quality of attention / belief / healthy habit every day. A habit a day, keeps the doctor away!