How To Set And Keep New Year Resolutions

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Resolutions fail 80% of the time. Setting the right ones and having a clear plan makes it more likely to achieve them.

Around the end of the year, we tend to look inward. We examine our behavior and habits, reflect on where we are, daydream about where we want to be.

The prospect of a new beginning fills us with a superpowered feeling, where we feel like we can do anything if we just put our minds to it. So our resolution list (if we make one) looks more like wishes than attainable goals. We envision our perfect self. The one we aspire to be. But in focusing on that vision we miss the steps needed to get there.

New year resolutions have been getting a bad rep lately. If you make them you’re thought of as deluded and setting up yourself for failure. Studies tell us that around 80% of people don’t keep their resolutions past February.

It’s daunting to demand a total transformation of yourself come January and expect it to actually last. A new change is exciting, the first week or two are easy to follow because of the novelty. But once the initial motivation is subdued it becomes much harder to stick to.

In order to be able to commit to a new change, it’s important to know and understand the what, the why and the how of these changes.

The What:

What changes do you want to make? If you’re drawing a blank or feel overwhelmed then assess different aspects of your life one by one. Family and relationships, work and finance, physical health and nutrition, hobbies, personal development, and any other aspects that are valuable to you. Identify the changes you would like to make and write them down.

Being vague leaves too much room for uncertainty. Be as specific as possible. Use hard numbers instead of the word ‘more’. For example:

  • Drink 2 liters of water instead of drink more water.
  • Read one book a month, instead of read more.
  • Save 20% of my salary instead of start saving.

Setting vague resolutions ensures that we don’t stick to them. Set attainable goals that you know you can achieve. Don’t make yourself a promise you can’t keep.

The Why:

What are your reasons for wanting to make that change, and specifically why now? Dissect each resolution so you have clarity not only on what it entails but also why you want to achieve it. If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons such as seeking external validation or because it sounds good, those feelings will fizzle out. Is it something you actually care about? Is it important to you? Are you willing to prioritize it? What would achieving it give you?

Be intentional with every resolution you set. Do it because it’s what you truly want.

The How: 

What do you need to do to follow the resolutions you set? James Clear, who writes about habit formation says “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” Set up a clear system that is easy to follow and isn’t complicated. “Humans are wired to seek the path of least resistance, which means the most convenient option is often the winning option.” What works for others doesn’t necessarily work for you. What are the obstacles standing in your way? What’s your plan of attack?

Keep yourself accountable. Track your resolutions using a habit tracking app, a printed worksheet, or in your daily journal. Ticking off every day and having a streak is rewarding and a motivation to keep going.

Resolutions aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it type of thing. Think of them as goals. Monthly objectives to meet. There’s nothing wrong with having a big goal, a vision of where you would like to be in a year, but breaking it down into yearly quarters or months makes it easier to stick to and to track your progress. As author Lori Gottlieb noted: “Most big transformations come about from the hundreds of tiny, almost imperceptible, steps we take along the way.”

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