If you only attempt what you know you can do, you’re never going to do much of anything. But reach too high and you’re doomed to fail from the start. Where’s the balance?
This is why setting a New Year’s resolution is such a blind hamster marathon. You never really know if you’re setting off in the right direction.
Expats living thousands of miles from the support of friends and family have the hardest struggle of all to set and achieve New Year’s goals. This is compounded by the fact that the number one fear of those living abroad is not safety, homesickness, or culture shock; it’s the fear of not fitting in.
We’re terrified of not being accepted – not finding our place in natural the order of things. Is there anything worse than a life “on the outside”?
This leads many expats to indulge in a hurricane of social activity as a way to compensate – we want to feel like a part of the local community. We want friends!!! Unfortunately, this leaves typical resolutions like exercise, alcohol detox, and weight loss to fall by the wayside quicker than you can say Margarita Monday.
So what’s the secret to getting inspired in your expat life of 2015? Here are 6 tips to help you to target your resolutions and overcome your deepest expatriate fears:
Choose goals that work with your lifestyle:
One of the biggest mistakes expat resolutionists make is setting goals that grind harshly against the grain of their lifestyle.
For example, if you live in a city like Amsterdam that gets a daily dump of snow this time of year, don’t set your weight-loss goal around jogging. If you live in a city like Rome where decadence is institutionalized and every dish is loaded with carby, caloric deliciousness, don’t pin your diet plans on avoiding fatty foods. Because you won’t.
Instead, mold your resolution to your city: What do the locals do for exercise? Are there a ton of bike trails nearby or a beach to run along? In Buenos Aires, the “thing to do” is roller blading. Locals gather in groups of 20+ and zoom their way from one suburb to the next with the grace of ballerinas and the attitude of 1980’s street thugs. It’s a great way for expats to bond with the community, make friends, AND keep weight resolutions!
Narrow your focus:
Another classic mistake is making too many goals spread over too many sections of your life; it’s like not having enough butter for your toast. I was never very good at juggling so I always find it to be a safe analogy – you can hold two balls in your hand securely, but as soon as you start to juggle more you’re likely to drop them all! Picking one or two goals your really comfortable and inspired about will make it easy to keep them.
Have confidence in yourself:
According to research by professor of psychology ALbert Bandura, a person’s level of motivation is directly proportional to what they believe they are capable of. People will only take you as seriously as you take yourself so the first step to keeping any New Year’s resolution is to have confidence that you can do it. If you’re doubting yourself, it’s probably not a great choice. I’d love to learn calculous sometime, but that’s just reaching for the stars.
Sorry, that’s a lie – I don’t want to learn calculous even a little.
Plan for obstacles:
Don’t assume it will be easy. If you do, you are giving yourself an easy out. “It’s raining today? Oh, I didn’t plan for that, my run is cancelled”. False! Professor of psychology Peter Gollwitzer reports that people who mentally prepare for obstacles are more likely to stick with their goals than those who don’t. Make sure there is a plan b in your pocket for the likely hick-ups and distractions. If you give up at the first sign of trouble, you were never really in it to begin with. This goes for every relationship, including the one you have with yourself.
Play the tourist:
Nothing is more inspiring about the expat life than the rush of cultural reciprocity. Exploring your foreign oasis with the fresh eyes of a tourist can give boring, tired goals new life. No matter how long you’ve been living in your city, there’s always more mysteries to uncover! Make a healthy-eating goal fun by trying more local dishes or exploring a new restaurant scene. Take a jog to a part of the city you’ve never seen before.
Just do it:
People ask me all the time how I ended up in the expat life, and in reality it’s because I just…did it. Many expats will tell you they spent months or years planning their continental leap, researching every tiny detail and comparing one city to another. That doesn’t work for me. If I sit down and plan too much, I get totally overwhelmed. Before long, I’ve completely lost my ambition in a cloud of risk analysis and apprehensive confusion.
It’s much the same with New Year’s goals – it takes strength of character; you have to dive in with everything you have before you lose heart and direction.
At the end of the day, we only get one shot at living so follow the advice of Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”