How To Create New Year's Resolutions Based On Your Deepest Values

Licensed Psychologist By Erin Ayala, PhD, LP, CMPC
Licensed Psychologist
Erin Alaya PhD, LP, CMPC is a Licensed Psychologist who specializes in health and sport psychology. She is also a Certified Mental Performance Consultant.
(Last Used: 1/4/21) Why Goals and New Years Resolutions Aren't Enough--Especially in 2021
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At the start of the new year, many people write down resolutions that identify what they want to achieve: Spend more time with loved ones, limit time behind screens, practice more yoga, and the list goes on.

Changing habits is hard, and many people appreciate a new calendar year because it can represent a new chapter or a blank slate. This feeling is arguably an important one following 2020, especially. The events of last year have affected stress levels, motivation, and the ability of many people to meet goals. Though it may be tempting to forget it and move on, 2021 resolutions will be meaningless if they aren't informed by the challenges of 2020 and what we have learned from them

Start by identifying your values.

To prepare for the next chapter, we need to step back and spend time intentionally reflecting on what is important to us in life—and why. In other words, we need to identify our values in order to set the stage for the coming year. Values are the foundation of many of our behaviors, actions, thoughts, and feelings. They serve as our guide on how to respond when life gets messy.

Scholars who have done work in this area (e.g., Brené Brown), note the importance of identifying two or three values to guide everyday actions—not 10 or 20. When we select more than two or three values, it becomes difficult to keep them a priority. Fortunately, there are some helpful resources available online that are designed for this very activity. Before you solidify your New Year's resolutions for 2021, print off this worksheet and commit to finding your top two values in life.

Start by circling the top 10 or 20 values that stick out to you initially. From there, categorize them based on their similarities to one another. Ask yourself: Is this what I'm working toward when I'm at my best? Is this what I reflect on when I'm in challenging situations or need to make tough decisions?

If you find yourself stuck, consider whether it's your value or whether you feel like it should be your value because of messages from other people or environments. Focus on you. 

Then, reflect on some of your most difficult and most joyful moments of 2020. When we have a strong emotional reaction to something that has happened in our life, that is a strong sign that the event is somehow tied to our values. Use those moments and reactions to help you determine your top values. Ultimately, you will want to identify the common denominators that inform the other values you circled. This can be a long process due to the amount of self-reflection involved, but it's an important one, so stick with it.

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Find (and create) a connection between your values and resolutions.

Let's use the common New Year's resolution of working out, as an example. If this is a potential resolution for you (or has been in the past), ask yourself why it is important to you. Place yourself in the shoes of a curious toddler who continues to ask "why?" until you find the underlying value. Perhaps, you want to work out regularly because you value your health. Maybe you want to work out more often because it allows you to be the parent or partner you want to be; in this case, the underlying value could be family. For others, working out may be a vehicle for teamwork or community. The goal here is to find your "why" and let that serve as your foundation--it's not necessarily the resolution itself that is most important.

Once you know what your top values are, then you can create resolutions you know and love. Return to the question: When I show up as my best self, in a way that is important and meaningful to me, what does that look like? The response is where you want to start for your 2021 goals.

If your resolutions are important to you personally and they truly reflect who you want to be in the new year, you'll be well on your way to a meaningful 2021.

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