Try rethinking your approach
What words come to mind when you hear the phrase “New Year’s resolution?” Ineffective? Impossible? Failure? If so, then you are likely among the multitude of people who have been defeated by their resolutions or were unable to make them last past the first couple weeks of the New Year. Giving up shortly into the year is defeating, especially if one has little motivation to continue working once derailed.
There is science behind why New Year’s resolutions often don’t work. Habits are created and become intertwined with one another over time. Therefore, specific habits within an array of others are difficult to break if the source of the habits isn’t revealed, or if the habits aren’t given adequate time to be relinquished.
According to Psychology Today, it takes an average of 66 days to form or break a consistent habit. It is no wonder, then, that New Year’s resolutions are so hard to keep. Why try to hold yourself to a goal that will take over a fifth of the year to completely develop?
Despite this defeating statistic and the science denying the success of New Year’s resolutions, given determination and some useful strategies, they can be successful. Here are some tips to keep your New Year’s Resolutions longer than the first week or month of every new year.
First and foremost, set small, specific goals. Instead of making your resolutions broad and general, narrow them down to precise targets that can be used as stepping stones to bigger goals. For example, if you want to lose weight, set a goal of eating a serving of vegetables every other day at lunch. This isn’t making a drastic change and can be easy to incorporate into an already established diet.
Along with this, manage one goal at a time. Instead of trying to make or break multiple habits at once, such as getting in shape, maybe first try going on a walk every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 30 minutes each. This specifies the type of exercise you’ll be doing and the time and days you’ll be committing yourself to, so the obligation won’t be as easy to back out of.
Additionally, don’t hesitate to adapt your resolutions as needed. Say you’ve been eating a serving of vegetables every other day at lunch for three weeks and it’s beginning to feel natural. In this case, you could continue your resolution by increasing your vegetable intake to every day rather than every other day.
Furthermore, don’t be discouraged if you have messed up a few times, or even several times. Getting easily discouraged will only bring you farther away from your goals, and it’s only human to be imperfect. Instead of completely giving up, try again the next day or week.
It’s also important to reward yourself for achieving one of your goals. Rewards can be a great support system, especially if your particular goal is challenging and you are proud of your progress.
For example, if you’re trying to decrease time spent on your phone during study time, put your phone away for 20 minutes and study until that time has passed. After the 20 minutes, reward yourself with 10 minutes of phone time. While your time studying would ideally increase and compulsive phone checking would decrease, it’s still important to reward yourself in the beginning to stay motivated and progress to higher-level goals.
Lastly, remember to do everything in moderation. You can eat only fruits and vegetables for every meal, exercise every day for five hours or study for six-hour intervals, but none of these goals are functionally effective. They are excessively high, have a low potential for long-term benefits and replace other healthy habits, including getting proper nutrition and giving your body adequate rest. Taking care of yourself is more important for your well-being than pushing your body to its limits.
Keeping New Year’s resolutions for an entire year is indeed a difficult endeavor, but given proper considerations of your goals and setting small, specific objectives to guide your progress, you are more likely to persist through the challenges. As the New Year begins, if you are still considering ways to improve yourself in the coming year, remember these helpful tips while crafting and maintaining your ideal resolutions.
Too late for success
It is now late January, and the decaying remnants of the holiday season are fading quickly from our collective memories. The confetti has been swept up, the champagne bottles have been recycled and the Times Square New Years ball is stored in a warehouse somewhere upstate, patiently waiting for when humans have use for it again. Save for the handful of actually useful presents, not much feels like it’s carried over from the holidays.
Except, of course, the dreaded New Year’s resolution, which hangs gloomily over each of our heads like a personal rain cloud. The New York Times, in December of 2018, reported that over half of all resolutions eventually fail. What can be done to fix, or, God forbid, scrap the resolution process altogether? In short, why do so many resolutions suck?
It’s not that resolutions need to go away, but the toxic atmosphere of dreaming big — and then having those pipe dreams drift away mid-February — certainly needs to make an exit.
The New Year’s resolution is, for one, arbitrary. There is nothing remarkable about the shift of the old year to the new in terms of changing patterns of behavior. If you want to make a change in your life, start right away. While there may be some metaphorical significance to the whole “New Year, new me” concept, in practice, putting off lifestyle transformations is akin to procrastination on a cosmic scale. For maximum effect, real resolutions should be made up of small steps that are easy to measure, realistic and can be easily integrated into day-to-day living.
A Washington Post article from January 2018 points out that the process of “piggybacking,” or attaching small improvements to preexisting daily habits, can be effective in promoting healthy lifestyle shifts like stretching, flossing and drinking water. It’s not a far cry to imagine that small substitutions and additions throughout the day — instead of grandiose gestures and metaphorical resonance during the year — can help prospective resolution makers live out their dreams.
In addition to many New Year’s resolutions being made during an arbitrary time frame, many resolutions are also vague and unplanned. Business Insider, in an article from January 2019, compiled a list of the most popular resolutions based on Google search numbers. These included “eat healthier,” “exercise more” and “read more books.” What is a common thread between each of these noble goals? They are each vague and rather difficult to measure. By fostering fantasies of self-improvement, the process of New Year’s resolutions encourages us to ‘think big’ and tackle some of the more pressing matters in our lives instead of being pragmatic, we can feel encouraged to bite off more than we can chew. For most, vague goals are no way to grow or succeed. Goals should instead be specific and attainable — a sentiment that might seem unpopular and ‘small-minded’ for many New Year’s resolutioners.
Just to be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to self improve or turn over a fresh leaf in the New Year. What can be detrimental is when the fervor to improve yourself isn’t tempered with realistic expectations. Keep learning, keep growing and of course, keep improving — just remember that New Year’s doesn’t have to be the crux of your goal setting this year.