It’s December 31st. You sit at your desk, dig out a journal, and write your new year’s resolutions. As you fill the page with bullet points, you get excited about the ushering of the new year. After all, you will be unstoppable with your list of resolutions.
The next day, you sign up for a gym membership, purchase self-help books, and replace all your junk food with vegetables. Come new year’s day, you wake up bright and early and don’t leave the gym until you feel like a wrung-out towel. Once you get home, it’s time to blend a green concoction and down it. After showering, you read the first book of the pile, diligently making notes as you go. You’re feeling great; first day out of three-six-five!
Tomorrow morning comes around, and your body aches with sores as a result of yesterday’s workouts. The green smoothie doesn’t look too appetising when your muscles feel like they’ve been sculpted, so you opt for a comfort snack or two that you stashed away. The books? You’re too tired to dive into them. Plus, you made progress with twenty pages yesterday, and skipping a day won’t matter. Right?
But it repeats the next day. And another day. Just one more day. By the first week of January, you’ve thrown in the towel. It’s too time- and effort-consuming, and you persuade yourself that last year’s habits and routines worked out just fine, so why change?
Millions of people pledge their resolutions at the beginning of every year for similar reasons: to improve their quality of life, achieve personal goals, or become better versions of themselves.
In this sense, setting resolutions sounds like a great way to visualise the person you aspire to be. But between you and me, I think we are mature enough to admit that it is pointless to wait a whole year before deciding what you want to change about your life.
Let’s not jump the gun to say new year’s resolutions are useless because they do work for some. Rather, let’s take a magnifying glass to what those people are doing right that allows them to tick off goal after goal on their list. Then, just maybe, you will be able to make this year yours.
Why Do New Year’s Resolutions Fail?
No matter how refreshing new year’s resolutions sound, there is no denying that commitment fizzles out by the end of January for most. Coincidentally, stock markets have observed this phenomenon and coined it “The January Effect”. This effect describes how the turn of the year is received as renewed optimism, causing markets to perform better in the first month of a new year.
Optimism is one of those things that cause harm in excess. Armed with the prospect of a clean slate and the motivation of a new year, we often feel unstoppable when envisioning the life we want and the resolutions we long to achieve. The consequence of looking through these rose-tinted glasses is that we overestimate our capabilities and underestimate the time and effort required to turn goals into reality.
Prospectively, we convince ourselves that it will be easy to commit to the gym every other day, but we don’t account for the dread that might wash over us or the excuses we will make when the time comes around to lace up our shoes.
While this may sound like a classic case of laziness or lack of commitment, Polivy and Herman proposed the idea of “false-hope syndrome”: the tendency for us to have heightened and unrealistic expectations about potential outcomes of a situation, despite contradictory evidence.
There are several reasons why many of us fall for the false-hope syndrome. Firstly, it is human nature to believe things will turn out in our favour. Our brains are programmed to focus on rewards more than risks, causing us to overlook potential challenges.
Secondly, our resolutions are influenced by others. Thanks to social media and the ever-advancing internet, we are constantly bombarded with the “correct” way of life – eating greens, working out, studying restlessly, and more. Though we don’t always acknowledge it, this leads to our new year’s resolutions being constructed on what we think we should do instead of what we genuinely want to do.
So, how do we bypass all the failures of new year’s resolutions and make them work?
#1 Sit and Wait
You’re thinking: Why should I wait to start my new year’s resolutions when I can hop on the new year’s momentum and get my foot in the door?
Hopping on the momentum is precisely the problem here. Once that momentum fizzles out, you stop having the energy to pursue your resolutions. The first week of the year is often marked by vicious goal settings and overestimations, with people sharing their endless lists on social media. The simple solution to avoid jumping on the bandwagon is to wait it out.
Give it five to seven days into the new year before deciding your goals. Take this waiting period to assess your current lifestyle, routine, and habits, so you get a realistic sense of the changes you can commit to when you come around to make your list.
#2 Specific, Actionable, and Measurable Goals
“Lose weight”, “eat healthier”, “achieve good grades”, “learn a new skill”. Sound familiar? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if this is the way you’re writing your resolutions, you will probably forget all about them in two weeks.
The examples listed above have one common error: they are too broad. To exemplify things, which sounds more attainable: “lose weight” or “take a 30-minute walk every day”? Most of us can agree it is the latter.
To ensure that you have a list that works for you, write down your broad goals and then break them into actionable to-do’s. By laying the groundwork of taking a 30-minute walk every day, you are letting yourself know precisely how to get to your end goal of losing weight. This is specific, actionable, and measurable, as you can track the days you do or do not execute the task.
#3 Attach to Existing Habits
Though this might not apply to every resolution, it is still a tip that is beneficial when it comes to habit-building. The key to accomplishing your new year’s resolution is repetition and discipline, which routes us to habit-building. If you persist in taking 30-minute walks every day for a year, surely you will reap what you sow.
But building a habit is easier said than done; fortunately for us, the author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, has laid a perfectly concise foundation that anyone can pick up to make their habits stick, and that is to attach your new habit onto an existing one. Say your morning routine from last year has been to wake up, wash up, and make yourself a cup of coffee that you enjoy. Now, you want to build the habit of taking your walks.
Integrating Clear’s suggestion would be to sandwich your new habit somewhere in your existing routine: wake up, wash up, take a walk, and make coffee. In this case, that cup of joe you relish every morning becomes a reward for you taking the 30-minute walk. Instead of forcing open a new hour of day to fit in a habit that is foreign to you, why not ease it into the life that you are already familiar with?
#4 More Tips
I find the three points above to be the most valuable changes one can make while structuring their new year’s resolution, but if you’re hungry for more, here are some honourable mentions:
- Write down why you want to achieve your goals to remind you why you started in the first place.
- Missing a day doesn’t nullify your progress. We all slip up sometimes; what matters is that you keep going.
- Be flexible and reflect. If your plan isn’t working, don’t be afraid to make adjustments!
- Have an accountability buddy who ideally has the same goals and action plans as you.
Hopefully, this levels up your new year’s resolution game and inches you closer to your goals. Happy new year to all!