An Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions!

By Linda Swanson

Soon we’ll be ringing in 2016 – a Leap Year! What will those 366 days hold for you? How do you want to use them? Can you connect with the person you will be a year from now?

A new year marks a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance to pause and consider big things, such as where you would like to be in your life this time next year. You might even resolve to change certain behaviors or achieve long dreamed-of goals.

But how do New Year’s resolutions usually work for you? If they work well, congratulations! For many people, they don’t work well.

When that happens, it’s discouraging to realize that you went to the effort of pausing, looking back, looking ahead, setting goals, sincerely committing to a new action only to discover some time in February (or even mid-January!) that you’re so far off track that you’ve given up on achieving what you resolved so genuinely to do. I know. I’ve been there. I don’t do the New Year’s Resolution thing any more.

To make things worse, folks with ADHD have a bigger challenge in this regard than most people. We folks with ADHD can have quite a hard time connecting with our futures. We tend to live almost completely in the present moment. Making plans for tomorrow or next week can be a big challenge. Next year at this time just doesn’t compute! 

This can be a real problem, because life without some degree of planning or some idea of where you’d like to end up can feel as if something is seriously missing. You don’t know where you’ve been or where you’re going.

There is a way to approach getting to where you want to be at the end of next year without using New Year’s resolutions. Read on if you’re interested in a tool that might help.

The first step is to identify an area of your life in which you’d like to make some changes. Decide how much change in that area is realistic to accomplish in the next year, and imagine how your life will be if you succeed.

Now ask yourself this question: How will I feel, look, act, and behave by December 2016 when I have reached that level of accomplishment?” Don’t speed through answering this! Get all the details down; even consider drawing a picture or in some other way making a graphic image of yourself after you “arrive.” This will help connect you with what you want in your life and draw you forward over the next twelve months. You might even include a description of the celebration you’ll have when you complete your plan.

Once you know what you’d like to accomplish next year, instead of planning ahead, as we are often advised to do, try planning backwards. Let’s use an imaginary, but plausible, example to explore how to do this.

Suppose by the end of 2016 I want to have completed a book about our family history to give to my grandchildren. After I have a clear vision of how I will feel and act when the book is finished (and imagined the party I’m going to throw!), I need to ask myself this question: Before a copy of my book can reach each of my grandchildren by December 31, 2016, what will be the last thing I will need to do? Answer: I will need to put a finished copy addressed to each of them into the mail by December 26. 

Then, continuing planning backwards, I ask myself ‘What is the last thing I will need to do before mailing the books?” Answer: I will need to have printed and bound at least four copies of the book.

And what will be the last step before that? I will need to have proofed the final version to be sure it is ready for printing.

And before that? I will need to get the book back from an editor (perhaps another family member who served as another set of eyes to call my attention to anything at all that didn’t seem correct) and make any needed corrections.

And before that, I will need to send a nearly final draft to that family member who volunteered to serve as an editor.

You get the point! You plan backwards until you get to the point where there is no answer to the question, “And before that?” You will have identified your first step.

Write all the steps down, perhaps on Post-it notes, being sure to add to your description the amount of time each step will take. Then get out a large 2016 calendar and lay your steps out across the year, taking into account how long each step will take, from initial concept and research to final printing. Post this calendar where you can see it, and add those steps and descriptions to any other calendars you use.

When you approach a goal in this way, you make it concrete and actionable. You usually don’t miss any significant steps, though if you do you can adjust your schedule. The main thing is that you have taken a big dream and turned it into a working reality. The steps are now small enough to be manageable. You can visualize how to accomplish the project in small bites instead of one big one.

So, what would you like to have achieved by the end of 2016 that you can plan backwards? Engaging in the process of thinking backwards through the steps you’ll need to take is a very different process from making a vague and possibly unrealistic resolution without clear action steps.

Try it for 2016! You might like it.

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