Did you make any resolutions for the new year? It’s a natural time to initiate new activities or revitalize old ones. Unfortunately, resolutions can be slippery, but I’ve discovered a few simple tools that make them stick!
As a guitarist and instructor, I have a lifetime of experience with conscious goal setting and achievement, both in my own and my students’ practice and performance. In addition to researching and studying the topic, I’ve gained insight by evaluating my own habits and patterns around discipline and resolve. And, in coaching countless students, I’ve witnessed some great successes – and some epic fails.
Not really. As you might guess, the thing that most people feel trips them up is self-discipline. But discipline is not always what it appears to be. I realized long ago that most of what appears to others to be discipline in my life is merely habit that I’ve carefully and consciously chosen and placed. I suspect that most people who succeed with resolutions would say the same.
It’s true that establishing habits does require discipline, but the required amount of discipline is small, in terms of time. In fact, most habits take as little as a few days to establish. You have countless daily habits – from brushing your teeth in the morning to doing the dishes at night – that initially required discipline, but no longer do. It follows that when you’ve chosen to commit to something new, your success lies in moving the activity as quickly as possible from discipline to habit.
By combining that strategy with a supportive mindset and some informed choices, you can set yourself up for success. Start by choosing the optimal way to frame your resolution.
The most important thing you can do to assure success in keeping your resolutions is to consciously make them as a gift to yourself as opposed to a punishment. Whether you want to practice an instrument, learn a language, start a new exercise regimen, or launch a new diet, you’re doing it to elevate the quality of your life and your enjoyment of it. The fulfillment of your resolution is a gift that you desire and deserve. Remind yourself of that every day!
In addition to approaching your practice with gratitude, be patient! Don’t measure and judge your progress daily. Just welcome your practice as an integral part of your life.
Before launching into your new commitment, make sure the goal you’ve set is attainable. For example, in your zest to advance quickly on the guitar, you might resolve to practice several hours a day. But are your hands strong enough yet? Will that schedule work with your current obligations?
If you realize that your plan is unrealistic, don’t give up – just adjust. In the above example, you could start with 20 or 30 minutes of practice a day. As the weeks go by and your hands strengthen, you can choose to add more time. Life has a way of shifting and expanding to support your investment.
Timing is everything when working with resolutions. If you’re excited about starting a new instrument as the holidays wind down, for example, it will be hard to focus on practice until the guests have cleared or you’ve tidied up after a celebration. Likewise, a walking or running program is unlikely to get off to a good start during a season of inclement weather. Set yourself up for success by starting under the best circumstances you can. Once you’re firmly established in a routine, you can more easily navigate challenges like weather or holidays.
In addition to choosing a supportive external circumstance, it pays to be as emotionally and mentally prepared as possible. If you’re immersed in or recovering from a particularly stressful period, try to catch up on your rest and find your center before embarking on a new routine. When you’re in touch with both your inner and outer life, it’s possible to set your intentions and then wait and watch for the starting time to show itself. This doesn’t mean that you give in to resistance, but that you trust what your thoughts and feelings tell you!
Schedule your time for daily practice thoughtfully, too, remembering to choose habit over discipline. It’s a lot easier to do something every day than to do it only on specific days of the week. If, for instance, you decide to exercise on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, you may always have in the back of your head that if you “need to”, you can put off one of those sessions with the hope of using one of your unscheduled days to “catch up.” Things have a way of unraveling from there because your practice hinges on discipline as opposed to habit.
The most effective way to schedule your daily practice is to attach it to something that’s already in place. Guitar practice could come directly before or after any daily activity, such as morning coffee or tea, an afternoon exercise program, or your evening meal. Be creative in finding ways to achieve the things that add joy to your life!
Do you have any tricks for keeping resolutions? What resolutions have you kept? Do you have a story to share about a successful resolution? If so, please share them!