Did you make a new year’s resolution to be more patient, or to stop yelling? Surveys show those two are top of the list for parents. If you’re like most of us, you’ve had the experience of making resolutions only to give up in frustration and self-disgust within a few weeks. The truth is, most new year’s resolutions fail. Not because we’re not good enough, or we don’t try hard enough. But because what we’re trying to do is HARD. If it were easy, it wouldn’t take a New Year’s Resolution!
The second reason we don’t make progress on our resolutions is that most resolutions are a wish, not a plan. To accomplish anything hard, we need to break it into small chunks-a step-by-step plan-and support ourselves to accomplish each step. Then, we need to revise our plan to accommodate reality when we hit a wall.
The third reason resolutions wither without bearing fruit is that we don’t give ourselves enough support. We don’t ask for help. We never really commit ourselves aloud and in public, which means our resolution never gets the chance to grow roots, much less flower.
So the bad news is that resolutions are not enough. Intention is only the first step. But that doesn’t mean we should just give up and treat the whole idea of New Year’s Resolutions as a bad joke. While we can create change at any time, there’s something about the symbolic fresh start of the new year that does give us a little extra momentum.
The good news is that there are a few lucky folks who actually make their resolutions come true. What can we learn from them?
- Pick one thing So you want to stop yelling at your kids, get more fit, and transform your marriage? That’s wonderful! But you can’t do everything at once. Pick one change that feels do-able, that provides a foundation for the other goals. Maybe something like better self-care, which will help you stay better regulated emotionally, so you’ll be more emotionally generous and more likely to make healthy eating choices. Then make a list of “next goals” to cultivate after you’ve mastered your first resolution. Put that longer list away for at least a month, and more likely three. Mastering your first goal will give you more confidence to tackle the others.
- Start by supporting yourself Seeds don’t germinate on concrete. Flowers bloom when we support their growth by cultivating the soil. So your plan to stop yelling will work a lot better if your first steps are cutting the stress in your life, getting enough sleep, and monitoring your own moods. Notice how your child acts better when he gets his needs met? You’re the same way. Intention will only take you so far. You have to address the needs and feelings that drive your behaviour.
- Commit yourself - on paper and in public Once we set an intention, the universe lines up to support us. We marshal resources we never even suspected we had available, from both inside and out. So be brave and go public - tell your family your intention. It also helps to write your intention down and put it in your pocket: “I am more and more able to regulate my own emotions.” Really! Research shows that thoughts we write down and “carry with us” are more likely to blossom. (Have something you want to get rid of? The same research shows that when you write something down (“Yelling!”) and burn that bit of paper, you lessen its hold on you.) If you want to combine the commitments of writing and going public into one powerful motivating force, you might even go really public, like Orange Rhino, who blogs movingly about her journey to become a more peaceful parent and stop yelling.
- Hone your desire Why do you want this goal? What will be different in your life once you achieve it? Picture what your life will look like, to whet your appetite and program your subconscious. Fierce desire + Intention = the Seed of your Resolution. Without that seed, nothing grows.
- Make a plan The only way anyone ever met a goal was by breaking it into little pieces and accomplishing one day at a time. How will you support yourself to accomplish your resolution? What will you actually do to achieve your goal? Write it all down. If your plan is to stop yelling, for instance, how can you give yourself daily support to stay on track? What will you do in the moment when you start to lose it? (Read Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, and find step by step support to regulate your own emotions.)
- Take one small step every day Assign yourself a very reasonable task for each day, with one day every week free for catch-up or time off. It might be the same task every day: “Get up ten minutes earlier than usual to listen to a meditation audio.” Or maybe you need to begin with something even more foundational: “Go to bed half an hour earlier every night.” Put your daily tasks on your calendar. Make a chart to check off your daily progress, and put it up in a public place. . Every day you stick to your plan, you’re growing roots. Celebrate your achievements, especially with those close to you.
- Take it one day at a time Every day when you wake up, you’ll need to re-commit yourself. Big changes are daunting. If change were easy, you’d already be doing it. So focus on today, right now. You have a choice between love and something else—fear, or being right, or indulging in a tantrum. Choose love. Then, repeat. It’s really hard, but it gets easier. You can do anything for an hour. From there, it isn’t such a big stretch to go a whole afternoon. Before you know it, you’ve clocked a day, and then a week, of your new life.
- Make it a habit Most resolutions get derailed because they aren’t sustained for long enough to change a habit.Habits need to be repeated daily for at least 30 days to become entrenched. Check in every day and take a positive action towards your goal. Think of this as watering your resolution. Don’t lose heart if your resolution isn’t flowering during the first month. You should be able to see those shoots poking up, and maybe some buds forming. In other words, celebrate every bit of progress in the right direction.
- What about those days when you blow it? Plan now - of course those days will happen! If you learn from them, it’s not a total loss. What can you do next time so you can keep to your intention? Use those times you fall short of your goal to make a plan for the future, now. For instance, if your intention is to stop yelling at your child, and you notice you’re always yelling at bedtime, then rethink your evening routine. This is creating the nourishing conditions that your resolution needs to blossom.
- Review and Revise Revise your plan as necessary. For instance, if you’re trying to stop yelling, you’ll find that most of the time you’re already yelling before you even notice. It may seem hopeless, but it isn’t. For now, maybe your goal should be to shut your mouth as soon as you realize you’re yelling. Over time, you’ll be able to notice sooner and close your mouth faster. Then, you’ll become aware of your anger mounting before you open your mouth, and maybe even as you start building up an attitude of annoyance. Check your plan every single day. Give yourself lavish positive reinforcement for every day that you take a step forward – which should be often, since you’re tackling just one small task each day. Think of yourself as a baby learning to walk and cheer yourself on at every step. Not working? Maybe you need some sunshine and fertilizer. Remember, your behaviour is driven by your own needs and feelings. Address them and you’ll see your behaviour change. Self-care is essential to positive parenting. Find whatever support you need to help you make your intention a reality. There’s no deadline. The important thing is that you’re headed in the right direction. Even two steps forward, one step back will get you where you’re going. Any goal worth achieving takes time and hard work.
EXPLORE Laura Markham is founder of AHA Parenting – find articles, courses and advice at ahaparenting.com
READ Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting