FEATURE — Did you make a list of New Year’s resolutions? Are you already staring into the face of failure as you compare your goals for 2024 to the actions you have failed thus far to take? Despite your best intentions, have you already hit a wall?

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You are not alone. We are all motivated and inspired by the fresh start the new year offers. We want to be our best selves – to take our own so-so performances and mold them into something amazing. However, did you know that just 9% of adults keep their resolutions all year long, and a whopping 23% quit the first week of the year?

We embark on our pathway to change with good intentions and high enthusiasm, so why do we give up so easily? It could be the following motivation crushers:

Unrealistic expectations.
Lack of specificity.
Overwhelming goals.
Lack of planning.
No accountability.
Too many resolutions.
All-or-nothing mentality.
Lack of intrinsic motivation.
Negative self-talk.

Are you wondering how to effectively use your “fresh start of the new year” motivation so that you don’t ultimately end up in a loop of inaction? The answer could be the 13-week goal plan: a proven method of turning your hopes and dreams into sane and sensible steps for real life change.

To get started with your 13-week goal plan, begin with a basic exercise that clarifies a vision for your future. Think about a goal you are working on right now, and visualize the perfect ending to reaching that goal. Go big! Don’t hold back! The ending you visualize should give you goosebumps or send a shiver down your spine. 

Once you’re clear on your big ending, take a few minutes to connect with that big thing. What does it mean to accomplish it? What will it feel like when you have achieved it? Do you feel excited and apprehensive? Good!

With this clear visualization, ask yourself the following questions:

What can I accomplish if I do this one thing everyday for 13 weeks?
How much time do I have available each day to pursue this goal?
What is the one important thing I must do each day to make progress?
What are four milestones I can celebrate on the way to achieving my goal, and how will I celebrate?

Let me give you a personal example of what this process might look like using one of my 2024 New Year’s resolutions. My big vision is the following: Establish a healthy, eight-hour sleep period each night.

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Those who know me well are aware that I use a big chunk of what should be my sleep time to accomplish other tasks and to work on projects. It is not unusual for me to finally force myself to go to sleep at 3 a.m. While most of the time, I can get by on very little sleep for long periods of time (something I have done since I was in junior high), I know this is horrible for my health. It is time for me to change.

You might think it weird that the thought of actually doing this fills me with a mixture of anxiety and happy anticipation. Can I really give up accomplishing so much each day (anxiety)? How great would it be to feel totally rested each morning (happy anticipation)?

Here is how I answered the four questions listed above:

Working on this goal for 90 days will help me retrain my brain and nervous system to shut down enough to promote sleep. (I don’t need to be writing work emails or finishing the NYT Wordle late at night, right?) With more sleep, I will live a healthier, happier life.
I have 30 minutes before my designated bedtime to prepare for sleep.
In order to make progress, I must establish a 30-minute bedtime routine: set aside all electronics, dim the lights in my home, do some relaxing yoga stretches, wash my face and brush my teeth. Following this routine will give me space and time to prepare for bed, laying the groundwork for a healthy eight-hour sleep period.
I can celebrate each time I work on this goal for 25 days straight. I can celebrate by taking a brisk walk on my favorite trail.

Now, it is your turn. Using one of your New Year’s resolutions, find your big vision and write down your answers to the four questions listed above, being as specific as you can. 

Once these steps are completed, it is time to put words into action. First, obtain a wall calendar – one that you can physically touch, not your calendar phone app –and hang it where it is frequently visible. Then do the following:

Block off 13 weeks of time.
Write the one thing you need to accomplish daily (see your answer to question three) at the bottom of each day on your calendar for the 13-week period.
Cross off each day that you complete the one thing needed to achieve your goal.
Commit yourself to not breaking the chain of cross-offs! 

Keeping the cross-offs going is arguably the most important step in this 13-week process because it provides an element of psychological motivation that may surprise you. 

By the way, this tip is attributed to comedian Jerry Seinfeld and is more commonly known as “Don’t Break the Chain.” The concept is simple: spend some amount of time working toward a desired goal every day, and when you do, cross off that day on a calendar. This creates a chain of Xs showing your progress – a chain that you become more and more loath to break the longer the chain becomes. 

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It seems almost too simple to work, but the 13-week cross-off method has motivated and inspired me (and thousands of others) to accomplish so much more than I ever thought possible. I call it “eating an elephant one bite at a time,” and it works.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I recommend you do not work on more than two or three resolutions at a time (see the list of motivation killers at the beginning of this article), and use a separate calendar for each goal. I am speaking from a place of experience when I say that you will be better served by keeping a separate cross-off chain going for each goal. Working on one goal at a time is the easiest, but there are lots of super-achievers out there who can successfully work on two or three goals at once.

Once you have achieved your 13-week objective, repeat this process again for your next goal. At the end of the year, you’ll be amazed at what you have accomplished!

Harness the energy and positive thinking available to you as you begin a new year by implementing the 13-week cross-off method. As you accomplish each goal, your confidence will soar and your self-esteem will skyrocket. You’ve got this!

Written by DIANE DEL TORO.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of St. George Health and Wellness magazine.

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