Most of us fall into the trap of making New Year’s resolutions every year that we never keep. You know the drill. After a holiday season filled with overindulgence, you wake up on January 1 and start making a mental list before your feet even hit the floor.
And at the top of that list is most likely getting in shape.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In a Nielsen study conducted over the 2014-2015 New Year period, the top resolution was “Stay fit and healthy” at 37%, with “lose weight” a close second at 32%. After that came less body-focused resolutions like “enjoy life to the fullest”, “spend less, save more”, “spend more time with family and friends” and “get organized”.
Despite our love of making resolutions though, we’re really terrible at keeping them. According to a survey conducted by FranklinCovey in 2007, almost 80% of us will fail in our New Year’s resolutions – and over a third won’t even make it to the end of January.
So why do we feel compelled to make New Year’s resolutions year after year? Can they work? Is it even a good idea? Perhaps to get a better understanding, we need to go back to the beginning.
A Little History Lesson
Considering that humans have been making New Year’s resolutions for around 4,000 years, you’d think we’d be better at it by now. According to History.com, the tradition started in Ancient Egypt with a 12-day New Year celebration known as Akitu, which occurred with the annual crop planting in March rather than our current calendar year. During this time, the Babylonians would make promises to the gods like paying their debts and returning borrowed items in order to curry favor for the coming year.
Although the timing transitioned to our current calendar in Rome when Julius Caesar introduced January 1 as the start of the New Year, the tradition remained. Named after Janus, the two-faced god of new beginnings and transitions, the ritualization of the New Year continued with sacrifices and resolutions of better conduct made to the deity.
Are Resolutions A Good Idea?
That depends on two things: do you really want to change and is the change realistic? Let’s start with the first one. Change is hard. Whether it’s changing a bad habit or building new habits to reach a goal, it’s going to be challenging, and if you’re not all in, you’re not going to make it. You can’t just like the idea of changing, you have to really want to. And I mean you have to really want it.
You also have to be committed. You have to actively pursue your goal and make the time to do so. 40% of people surveyed by FranklinCovey said having too many other things to do resulted in breaking their New Year’s resolutions, while another third said they were not really committed to the resolutions they made in the first place.
Then, there’s number two: choosing an attainable, realistic goal. And note the singular use of the word there: goal, not goals. It’s fine to have more than one resolution, but the more you have, the harder it will be to keep them all – especially if they’re not based in reality. Are you really going to look like a supermodel and be a millionaire within a year? Probably not. Choose things that are challenging, but not unattainable.
So, to recap, you have to ask yourself two questions: 1) Do I really want to change? 2) Is the change realistic? Take a minute, think about it, and if you can answer yes to these two questions, then you might just be ready for making a New Year’s resolution that you’ll actually keep this year.
How to Be More Resolute In Your Resolutions
Hopefully you’ve made it here because you answered yes, but even if you didn’t and you want to go for it anyway, this section will still help you be more successful by creating SMART goals. Originally coined by George T. Doran in an article published in the November 1981 issue of Management Review, the SMART acronym outlines the key elements required for successful outcomes when it comes to setting objectives.
The SMART-er way is simple yet effective:
- Specific: Be as specific as possible. Rather than “I want to save more money”, set a tangible amount to save from each paycheck. Instead of “start running”, try “I will be able to run a 5k in three months”.
- Measureable: Make sure you can track your progress. Keep a monthly tally of your savings, of the number of days you meditated or workouts you’ve completed. Being able to see your progress towards your goal will keep you motivated. If you can break your goal down into milestones that you can attain and measure, even better.
- Achievable: The surest way to set yourself up for failure is to aim too high. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself – a resolution shouldn’t be something really easy to achieve either – but it should be a goal that you can realistically reach. Things like committing to a 1-2 pound weight loss per week, cutting down how many nights you eat out to once per week or committing to 30 minutes of reading each day might be more achievable than saying you’ll drop 100 lbs, you’ll save money by never going out or you’ll read 50 books this year.
- Relevant: Make sure the choice is something that’s important to you and that it aligns with your other life goals. Consider if it’s the right time and be sure that you have the resources you need to undertake it.
- Time-Bound: Make a realistic timeline to reach your goals. Set mini goals or milestones with deadlines to break the goal down into a series of smaller steps. This will help you keep on track to reaching your goal by your goal date.
Some Final Words of Advice
In addition to choosing SMART goals for your resolutions, consider enlisting your friends and family for support or joining a group. Not only does this add some public accountability, which can be highly motivating, you’ll also build much needed support for those hard days. Another helpful tip? Get tech savvy. There’s an app for everything these days, whether it’s fitness or nutrition tracking, financial tracking, habits – even happiness! Automating your scheduling and tracking will not only save you time, you’ll be able to quickly access your stats for extra motivation.
And lastly, whether you decide to set formal New Year’s resolutions or just resolve to make some changes in your life, keep the big picture in mind – even when you get off track. Eating one burger doesn’t mean you’ve failed or a minor splurge has wrecked your savings plan. You’re going to fall down every once in a while. You’re human. Rather than giving up or beating yourself up about it, simply put it behind you and move on. Not tomorrow, not next week, right now. Resolve to do better starting right now, this minute.
Happy resolutioning, friends!