Photo illustration by Chelsea Beck/GMG; photo via iStock

“I can effect change by transforming the only thing that I ever had control over in the first place, and that is myself.”

—Deepak Chopra

The year 2018 is here, and if you’re a goal setter, you’ve probably already set your New Year’s resolutions—or have at least thought about them.

If you’re anything like I used to be, you set new resolutions at the top of the year—and by Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, they’ve already fallen by the wayside, and your new year begins to look identical to the year before.

So how can we create goals, actually achieve them and make our lives look different?

This month, I want to help you get more clear on what you want, show you how self-love impacts your ability to achieve and receive, and offer a few strategies to jump-start you on tackling your goals. We will also explore why resolutions don’t work—but intentions actually do.

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For several years in my life, I was painfully stuck. Living alone in a studio apartment in New York City—a city that I had fallen out of love with—laboring in a real estate career that no longer excited me, I desperately sought change. But I couldn’t inspire the direction within me to create the transition to a new city and a new life.

But once I accepted and learned the tasks of loving and growing myself and creating peace from the inside, my life’s landscape began to quickly change. Since then, I’ve found my passion and purpose as a coach and speaker, launched a business and moved for two years to the beautiful island of Bermuda.

Why Resolutions Don’t Work, and Intentions Do

Wouldn’t it be great if writing our resolutions also gave us the power, discipline and determination to achieve them? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Our commitment to our resolutions can fade as quickly as the ink dries on the paper.

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Resolutions don’t always work for us because more often than not, they include making changes to behavior and objects that exist outside of us. Until we change what’s on the inside of us, we cannot change what’s on the outside.

The late spiritual luminary Wayne Dyer often quipped, “When you squeeze an orange, you get orange juice because that’s what’s inside. The very same principle is true about you.”

If we store anger, fear, low self-worth, jealousy, resentment, or other negative emotions and beliefs inside us, that becomes the foundation for whatever new thing we’re attempting to create; which, needless to say, isn’t necessarily the best starting point to building something fresh and different. In fact, the same angry or sad person will show up in the new job or new relationship, and the same person with low self-worth and insecurity will sabotage his or her success.

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Moreover, the word “resolution” itself implies a firm decision to do or not do something, allowing little flexibility or forgiveness. With resolutions, we tend to focus more on what we don’t want rather than on what we do want. However, with intentions, we become clear on what we want to feel and experience, and align our goals and direction toward them.

7 Steps Toward Achieving Our Goals for 2018

1. Get clear on what you want.

The first step in achieving our New Year’s goals is to become crystal clear on precisely what we want. Close your eyes for a moment and visualize the life you desire: Who and what are in this image? How do you look in this new picture? More important, how do you feel when you see this life in front of you? What do you ultimately want to feel? With your eyes closed, experience that feeling.

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Next, write down all of your goals for 2018. But rather than write them how you might typically write a resolution, write them as intention; for instance:

Resolution: I am losing 10 pounds or I am not eating chocolate anymore.

Intention: I intend to feel and be happy in my body. I intend to create success in a new job. I intend to move to a new city this year.

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2. Love yourself —first!

Reaching our goals doesn’t happen by beating ourselves up, or judging and criticizing ourselves. Transformation comes from the love, compassion, kindness and patience we offer ourselves. Just as a child doesn’t thrive or learn from hostility, neither do we. We learn and grow from patience and support.

So be kind and gentle with yourself as you progress toward your goals. When you slip up, tell yourself, “I’ll do better tomorrow.” We don’t have to be perfect to start loving ourselves; we deserve love just as we are now.

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In life, we don’t necessarily attract what we want. We attract what we believe we deserve. Creating desired goals and change must begin with believing that we deserve it.

3. Be self-aware.

If we are unaware of our thoughts, feelings, belief systems, likes, dislikes and fears, then we are missing a key element of initiating change in our lives. When we spend time noticing the internal dialogue we’re having with ourselves, we can learn critical behaviors that are preventing and sabotaging our growth and success.

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Are your thoughts repeating, “I’m never going to change. My life stinks. I’m not good at anything. I don’t deserve to be happy”?

Our thoughts can constantly shape our reality. So consider spending time in quiet meditation and reflection, noticing your dominant thoughts. Ask yourself a few questions:

What is keeping me from changing? What am I afraid of? Who will I disappoint if I change? Am I seeking someone else’s approval?

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Sometimes, just being fully aware of who we are and what we think and believe can help us notice and end self-sabotage, make clearer choices and create change.

Affirmations may work for some people. They work for me. For example, I repeat the following affirmation daily:

I deeply and completely love myself and I am perfect, whole and complete.

Remember: Our thoughts are powerful and move our lives in their direction. Try to focus on what you want, rather than on what you don’t want.

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4. Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is the gateway to peace and happiness. It is the starting point to creating change. A grateful heart feels love and joy, which draws more love and joy into our lives. A simple gratitude practice of writing five to 10 things daily that you’re grateful for can begin to shift your mindset and actually make you feel better, too.

5. Set realistic and achievable goals, and take actionable steps.

In setting goals and intentions, dream BIG, but realistically. Don’t set insurmountable goals to accomplish within a year if you doubt that you can reach them. Starting with a smaller goal and growing into a larger goal can often create a more lasting, impactful change.

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If you have really big goals, dissect each larger goal into smaller actionable steps, and each day, tackle one of those goals. Doesn’t matter how small the step you take; just move forward, little by little.

6. Meditate, visualize and create a vision board.

Repeatedly visualizing what we want creates an imprint of it in our minds. Then our actions begin to move in tandem with our thinking. Meditate daily on your goals—feel them, see them, believe in them with your whole heart. Vision boards are also a fun way to see our dreams and goals daily. Consider creating a vision board with friends and place it where you can see it every day.

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7. Find an accountability partner.

There’s nothing like having a cheerleader in your corner to support you on your path toward your goals and hold you accountable in achieving them. If it’s feasible, consider hiring a coach to support you, or reaching out to a trusted friend who also has ambitious goals. Set smaller goals for each month of the year and check in with each other for updates and encouragement.

I wish you the best of luck. May you have an abundant, prosperous, peaceful and happy New Year!