Choosing New Year’s Resolutions and Actually Achieving Them
January 4, 2022 by Alex McClellan
New Year’s Resolutions began as early as 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon and were commonplace by the 19th century. So much so that even by the 19th century, it was well-known that many (most) of these promises to ourselves would end up broken. An article published in 1802 in the Walker’s Hibernian Magazine had satirized the practice, writing joke resolutions, such as “statesman have resolved to have no other object in view than the good of their country.” If it was already obvious by 1802 that we don’t stick to most resolutions we make, it makes one wonder – why should we even set New Year’s Resolutions in the first place? And how can we do a better job of following through with our goals?
Why Create New Year’s Resolutions?
There is a psychological component to setting goals at the beginning of a new year. The first day of the year is something scientists consider a “temporal landmark,” which is a significant day or date in your life. It may be a widely recognized holiday or seasonal change, such as the first day of summer. Or, it may be a personal temporal landmark, such as your birthday, and these temporal landmarks are important. They provide structure and act as an outline and guide to our lives. Without these landmarks, each day can feel the same as the next. According to this article in The Guardian, studies have shown that these milestones help us form and retain memories, and these landmarks help us track our accomplishments and motivate us to achieve new goals.
In his book “When”, Daniel Pink dives into how we interpret temporal landmarks, particularly with “new beginnings.” Our brains are motivated by the idea of a clean slate and the ability to track and measure our success against a fresh start. Interestingly, we create new beginnings far more often than on January 1st. This can be a new day, a new week, or a new month. Studies have shown that Google searches for dieting spike not only on the first of every year, but also the first of every month and the first day of the week. A new job, the first day back from a long vacation, or returning home from the hospital after having a baby are all examples of “new beginnings.”
While there is merit working towards new goals at various points throughout the year (even if it’s on a Thursday in the middle of the month), there are benefits to maximizing motivation with naturally occurring fresh starts. The key is to have a plan. Below are some of our tips & recommendations to create the right resolutions from the start, and how to stick with them beyond the first couple of weeks of January.
Tips for Creating & Sticking to Your Resolutions
Choose the right ones
Sometimes we make resolutions that don’t align with our true goals or even sometimes with our skillset. This is not always a bad thing (dream big!), but this can lead to feelings of failure too. Choosing a goal that does not reflect a long-term aspiration leads to lack of motivation. For example, setting a goal of reading 10 books in one year when you do not love reading will feel like a hindrance at best, and at worst, you won’t read a single book all year.
Instead, consider why you want to read 10 books in the first place. Maybe it’s to become more educated on a certain topic? You might find that setting aside 15 minutes per day for online research and focusing on only one or two books leads to greater success and motivation.
Here are some questions to consider to help you identify the right resolution(s):
- How will I feel once I achieve this goal? How will it feel 1 year from now? Five years from now
- What value will be brought to my life if I achieve this goal?
- What does progress towards this goal look like?
- Is it realistic that I can fit the time to progress towards my goal into my daily or regular routines? If I can’t picture fitting it into my routines now, what do I need to change to do so?
Set the right number of resolutions and prioritize.
This number will vary from person to person. Some may do best by setting one primary focus or a single resolution for the year. Others may be able to set and work towards five resolutions. There’s no magic number. Just be sure you have the time and a plan to achieve each one. If you are setting more than one resolution, try to prioritize the ones that are most important or that you feel should be more achieved first. It may be helpful to write them down in order of priority.
Make specific plans to achieve each goal
Every resolution needs its own, very specific plan. Break your goal down to the smallest and most feasible steps. Make sure to devote time to each step, and write down the steps and your plans for each resolution. Consider how much time you need to allow yourself time to progress? What parameters or boundaries do you need to establish?
For example, let’s say you want to drink more water. First, establish how much water you want to drink daily. Then make specific plans to reach that goal. Do you need to buy a water bottle? Should you set phone reminders every 2 hours to take a drink? Maybe you want to drink half of your water intake before 11 a.m. so you’re set on the right track. Do you need to track your water intake on a phone app? A seemingly simple goal can be broken down to many steps, so be sure you’re crystal-clear on all of them.
Write your resolutions and plans in an easily accessible place
We all benefit from visual reminders that serve as motivations, and it’s helpful to have them written down in multiple places. You might use your Notes app on your phone, your planner, a visible spot on your office wall, or even the desktop background on your computer. Whatever makes sense for you, be sure you can easily find and frequently see them. These small reminders reinforce your goals.
Revisit your resolutions regularly
This is related to the last tip, but you should revisit your resolutions as often as it makes sense. Depending on the nature of your resolution, you may want to check in on your progress daily. Or, perhaps you look at your resolution list at the beginning of every month. Maybe you feel comfortable reviewing them quarterly. Decide whatever works best for you, but be sure to create reminders to check-in. Eventually revisiting your resolutions will become second-nature.
Track your progress
While some resolutions do not require regular progress or attention to achieve the goal (i.e., cleaning out your Tupperware collection), many do require a daily, or at least a regular tracking to create a lasting habit. This is where tracking your progress is so important. Even if it’s miniscule progress, it should be tracked. Luckily, we have many tools today at our disposal to help us track progress and to visualize the changes we’re making. Google or excel spreadsheets, a notebook, or an app specific to your goal (i.e., MyFitnessPal) are all good options. Whatever you choose, just make sure it is easy and quick to access.
Tell others about your resolution(s)
This may be the most important step. Telling others about your goal creates accountability. Similarly, having an accountability partner significantly improves your success rate with your resolutions. In fact, according to this article, The American Society of Training and Development found that 65% of participants completed a goal if they asked someone to hold them accountable and fully committed to accomplishing their project with their accountability partner. Even further, 95% of people successfully met their goals when they also attended specific appointments with their accountability partner to discuss their progress and success. That’s a startling statistic!
Don’t worry if you get off track – forgive yourself, then restart
Life happens, and progress towards your goal is not necessarily going to be a linear process. Getting off track is normal and does not make you a failure. Take the time to understand what got off track in the first place helps avoid it in the future. Also, use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate the goal entirely, and make sure it is still a priority. It is okay for resolutions change! Shifting your resolutions to align them your (and maybe changing) priorities and long-term goals will help you be more successful and motivated to achieve them.
If you are currently working with (or plan to work with) any of our Kintinu clinicians, let us know how we can help you develop and work towards your New Year’s Resolutions, or any other goals throughout your year! We are here to help you be the best version of yourself.
May 2022 be the year you follow through with all your goals!