A Better Approach to New Year's Resolutions

We're on the last leg of the holiday season, which means that New Year's is upon us, and with it, our lists of resolutions for 2017. It's almost unavoidable; humans have been making New Year's resolutions since the Babylonian era. But these days, many of us have a love-hate relationship with these lists. It feels good - proactive! - to set out our self-improvement goals at the start of a new calendar year. But we all know the feeling when we look back, just a few months later, and realize that we've already lost sight of those goals and don't have much to show for all of our good intentions.

There are several primary reasons that we don't follow through on our New Year's resolutions. Our goals may have be too lofty and unrealistic, or vague and unmeasurable. Or we make resolutions out of deference to external influences ("lose weigh" sound familiar?), but that we never really bought into. Or maybe you've created such a long list that you can't even remember -- let alone keep up with -- all of those bullet points after a few weeks.

So should we just scrap the tradition and cast resolution-making aside? Not necessarily. If you like the idea of starting off the year with a fresh commitment to accomplishing things that matter to you, you can still find value in the practice. Here are some keys to setting yourself up for New Year's resolution success:

  • Make only one or two resolutions. Don't distract yourself with too many goals. That's a recipe for failure, which will make you feel defeated and want to throw in the towel right out of the gate. You want to change something about your life, and change is hard, so don't try to change everything at once. Stick to the one or two things that are most important to you and channel your energy there.
  • Create well-defined, measurable, behavioral goals. Avoid grand proclamations ("This year, I will start my new business") that don't get any more specific. Instead, break it down into bite-sized pieces. Have a process in place ("In January, begin a schedule of writing one blog post per week. In February, attend that industry-specific conference in my city, and follow-up by reaching out to three potential mentors," etc.)
  • Focus on what you will do, rather than what you won't do. "Speak confidently and proudly about my accomplishments" is a more positive, uplifting resolution than "stop with all the negative self-talk," and it gives you a clearer path forward in how to shift your behavior.
  • Write all of this down. It'll help you work through the process and take it all to heart, and it will be there to review and help you stay on track as the year progresses.
  • If you're someone who is motivated by accountability, tell a friend, family member, or colleague about your resolution. Choose someone who will constructively call you out on getting lazy, letting fear take over, or making excuses for falling behind. Set up regular check-ins to keep yourself focused on achieving your next action item by a certain deadline.
  • Don't wait for motivation/inspiration to strike. You want to turn your resolution into a habit, and habits are formed by repetition, not by waiting to be in the right mood. Take Gretchen Rubin's quiz to decipher which of the Four Tendencies you fall into when it comes to forming new habits, and then learn how to apply the results to your life.
  • Treat yourself well. Take care of yourself in all the basic ways necessary to have the fuel to stick to your resolution. You won't be in a position to succeed if you're burning out or depriving yourself of sustenance, sleep, social time, etc. Know what your baseline needs are and carve out time to fulfill them.
  • Reward yourself along the way. Celebrate your successes and allow yourself to feel good about them. Reward yourself in a way that is meaningful to you, whether that's alone or with others. Then ride on that boost of happiness as you tackle the next step in your journey.
  • Don't let failure define you. When something doesn't go your way and you experience a low point in your process, remind yourself that this does not reflect upon your abilities. View challenges with curiosity, learn what you need to from them, and take a different approach the next time.

Wishing you the best with your New Year's resolutions!