Curious about this, I canvassed a few of my pickleball friends shortly after the New Year. Sure enough, many participated in this annual tradition that dates back to the Babylonians. Each player faced January with a deep commitment and heartfelt enthusiasm for their resolutions.
One promised she’d work on her drop shot. Another wrote on her dry-erase board, in big, bold letters, “I will master ball placement.” The least experienced man, who's been on the courts for only two months, swore he would “keep the ball low over the net or die trying.”
I followed up by asking how successful they'd been in keeping those resolutions. Unfortunately, all had experienced the same thing: disappointment. No matter how hard they tried, ultimately they hadn't made good on what they had resolved to do.
I knew exactly what they were talking about. I gave up creating New Year’s resolutions years ago, when I found myself at the end of yet another January with nothing to show for my efforts than an exercise in futility. I was left juggling a range of emotions, from guilty to downright silly.
However, I was in good (or not so good) company. Only about 45 percent of the population resolves to make changes in the new year. Of these, a mere 8 percent succeed.
How can you improve your odds of keeping those resolutions? First, it's helpful to see what can derail you from your course.
- You try to do too much at once.
- You don't notice immediate improvement.
- You resolved to do something you don't really want to do.
- Other things get in the way of whatever you resolved to do.
- You may have chosen to do something you don't know how to accomplish.
- You don't believe you'll succeed.
Once you are able to identify what is preventing you from pushing ahead, you’ll be able to construct goals that will yield productive results. For my friend trying to master ball placement, this meant correcting her self-defeating thoughts and removing the expectation that this would happen quickly. The woman working on the drop shot has managed to keep up with her expectations—in part because she set a realistic, smaller goal and is working with three other women who also want to practice together. The man trying to keep the ball low is frustrated by a lack of immediate improvement, but he's still on course so far.
Here are things you can do to help with whatever goals you've set:
- Ditch the word resolution. It’s a setup—one that has ridden on the backs of people for thousands of years. Instead, set a goal, objective, or even intention.
- Understand what motivates you. For some players, identifying a positive outcome and working toward it is the most effective form of motivation. Think about what is motivating you to meet your playing or practicing goal. Is it a good fit? Does it ring true? If not, identify a more appropriate motivation. When finished, post it where you can see it every day.
- Break it down. It can be quite worthwhile and exciting to set a large goal. “I will become a 4.0 player this year!” However, make sure your goal is specific—which usually means breaking it down into smaller goals you can cross off along the way. Remember my friend’s resolution to “keep the ball low over the net or die trying”? It would have been better to separate this goal into three separate ones: (1) I will watch my paddle face when returning the ball; (2) I'll work on keeping my shots softer so I have more control; (3) I'll concentrate on adding a bit of backspin to keep the shot lower.
- Be realistic. Changing behaviors, attitudes, and habits is a process. Rarely does change occur because of one event or a date on the calendar.
- If you feel frustrated, pick a single task—the smaller the better. It should be so simple you can’t possibly fail. For example, if you're a 3.5 player, moving to 4.0 shouldn't be that hard to accomplish, but if you’re not succeeding, the task is too big. Instead, aim to work on one of the things that separates these levels. When you are finished, move onto the next one. This approach fights frustrations with success and builds forward progress into your practice.
- Pair up. Ask another player to join you in working toward your goals. You’ll both benefit from being accountable to one another, and the mutual support will motivate you to follow through.
- When all else fails, take a break. It can be as simple as deciding to stop working on your goal and just playing for fun for a day, or as significant as putting your goal on hold for a month. Stepping away from the source of frustration can give you a fresh perspective and renewed momentum. But be sure to designate an end point to this refueling period to ensure that it is in fact a break—and not an excuse to stop practicing and remain where you are.
- Realize that setbacks are part of the process. Accept this inevitability, and you won’t be surprised when you slam into something that brings you to a screeching halt. By eliminating the element of surprise, you minimize disappointment, which will help you recover and get moving again.
- Be patient! Meeting your playing goals takes time and effort. When you throw out that list of resolutions and focus your attention on one or two well-crafted goals, you’re a step ahead of where you were last year. Twelve months is plenty of time to accomplish your goals if you approach them with understanding, clarity, and objectivity.
Here’s wishing you every success in 2016!