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At Triangle Smart Divorce, we dish out advice that may sometimes be received as brutal . . . true, but brutal. Keeping consistent with our character, here’s our two cents about New Year’s resolutions. . . New Year’s resolutions are for amateurs. If you want to achieve new results, have new experiences, and have change that sticks, then you need a plan—a system to get you to the effects you want by working on the causes which will lead to the effects.

What do we mean? Here’s an example most everyone can identify with “I want to lose 25 pounds.” You see my friends that is an effect. What must you do to lose 25 pounds? What action plan must you put in place? What habits must you change? What must you give up? What must you embrace? Most everyone understands that absent a horrible illness or having gastric surgery that 25 pounds just doesn’t fall off you. We know that we must add vegetables to our diet, cut out refined sugar, exercise, drink more water and so on. We can make each of those small actionable steps which build on each other. For instance, if you need to stop drinking soda, likely quitting cold turkey isn’t the way to go, but instead weaning yourself is a more sustainable path to take. If you want to consume a gallon of water a day, but typically consume none, then you should start with 8 ounces of water per week and build to the gallon overtime. Psychology tells us that it takes more than 30 days to change habits or create new ones, but psychology also goes on to tell us that small, subtle changes are much more likely to stick that drastic ones. Targeting weekly and monthly goals which build on each other are the key to getting the desired effect.

Okay, so that’s an example that most everyone understands, but here’s another one. How many times have you made a New Year’s Resolution that “You want to be happier?” That is an effect, just like losing 25 pounds. But yet, people often don’t address it as an effect. Meaning that they don’t set their goals on changing the causes which lead to unhappiness. We see this a lot in our work with people going through divorce. Often, they try to find things which will “make them happy” instead of changing the things that don’t. Maybe they buy a new house, maybe a new car or maybe they decide to have another child, hoping that all of these changes will make them happy, but most of the time they don’t and they don’t fix the underlying issues causing the unhappiness.

New Year’s is often a time of introspection, and we ask each of you to be reflective and mindful about what is causing your unhappiness. Once you isolate on the causes, you can then take steps to change the effects by working on the causes. To try to “find happiness” by acquiring something new is like painting an old rusty pickup truck. It might look shiny from a distance, but up close it is still rusty and has holes in the floorboard. What are your holes in the floorboard?

How do you assess the causes of your unhappiness? Here are some things we suggest when we do this exercise with ourselves:

1. Listen to your gut instincts. Too often, we make pro and con lists instead of trusting our feelings. We are not saying that you shouldn’t run your gut instincts past a therapist or someone who is aware of your blind side, but learn to trust your instincts, particularly when it comes to YOU.

2. Follow your heart. Be careful of dismissing your heart’s desire in favor of what you think you should do or someone tells you to do OR out of fear of what someone else will think or do.

3. Examine your boundaries. If you can’t figure out when you allowed your boundaries to be violated or you can’t think of the areas in which you need to set some boundaries, think of situations you wish you had handled differently with a friend, family member or co-worker. Likely your failure to speak up is due to not setting a boundary or not respecting the boundary you set.

Once you determine the causes of your unhappiness AKA the holes in your floorboard, set goals which are SMART–specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. And then be relentless in the pursuit of those goals by fully committing to them. Imagine what your life will be like if you do not achieve them. Will you be in the same or worse position than you were at the end of 2019? Is that a result you are willing to accept? If not, why not?

Remember to start SMART. Most all major goals are accomplished not in great leaps and bounds, but in a series of small measurable steps. Determine what steps you need to take in 2020 to be happy. Is that removing toxic relationships from your life? Is it being more grateful? Is it setting boundaries? Is it having “me time”? What is it for you? What does your inner core tell you?

Once you have written down the actions you need to take to achieve your SMART goals and have set in place a way to measure your progress toward each goal, then state your intentions in words on an index card. As mentioned above, goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Intentions are completely different. They are statements of how we intend to live, stated in the positive. For instance “I am happy” versus “Stop being unhappy.” Notice that these intentions are in the present tense. It is not “I will be happy.” It is “I am happy.” Why? Because our subconscious mind is powerful. Because thoughts are things. Because if our subconscious believes it to be true, then our subconscious mind will scan our environment through our senses to prove itself right.

If you want to change your effects (AKA results) in 2020 from 2019, then you must make a plan to change your results. No more being an amateur–setting vague New Year’s Resolutions with no SMART plan in place.

We leave you with some quotations on the value of planning:

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, writer and pioneering aviator

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra, former New York Yankees catcher

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” ― Alan Lakein, author

“The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do.” ― Lil Wayne, rapper

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the United States

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” ― Pablo Picasso, painter

“Unless you have a definite, precise, clearly set goals, you are not going to realize the maximum potential that lies within you.” ― Zig Ziglar, author and motivational speaker