Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Work (And What We Should Be Doing Instead)

“So what’s everyone’s New Year’s resolution?” It’s almost expected, at this point, that everyone sets a resolution - and in actuality, many people do. But, according to Psychology Today, more than 80% of New Year’s resolutions are given up on by February. How does it all go so wrong so fast?

This is not to discourage people who are entering the New Year with fresh ambitions, goals, and dreams, but more of a cautionary tale of what to avoid - or to do instead - to help prevent your resolutions from being forgotten. According to Brian Maher from the Philly Inquirer, resolutions often don’t work out because people are 1) not specific enough, 2) not creating a plan, 3) not being realistic, 4) not sharing their goals, and 5) not setting themselves a reward.

Let’s break this down a little bit. For example, people need to be specific with their goals and resolutions – if someone says, “my resolution is to be healthier in the New Year”, you’re left wondering, “well, how?” Health is measured on several different scales and is relative to each individual. Does this mean he or she wants to drink less in the New Year? Or lose a specific amount of weight? Or maybe even just add a new activity to their exercise regimen? The intention needs to be clear, otherwise, it’s unattainable and unmeasurable. Which dives into Maher’s second point – if it’s not clear, then there is no plan to follow. If there is no plan, then how can a person know where to begin? How can they know when the goal was achieved?

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Another daunting part about setting resolutions is, as Maher points out, not being realistic. Sure, anyone can say they want to lose 50 lbs or see the world in 2019. But how can someone be encouraged to take on such a huge task without first breaking it up into tiny, achievable objectives? How about, “I want to lose 5 pounds this month”, or “I am going to start putting 50$ aside a week to take a lavish vacation this year”? Suddenly, that resolution is less likely to be forgotten by February.

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Still in doubt as to whether you can make your resolutions a reality this year? Well, have you told anyone about your resolutions? Maher’s fourth point about not sharing your goals comes down to accountability. Most people keep their resolutions to themselves for fear of failure. But telling people about your intentions for the New Year imposes accountability and acts as further encouragement for you to keep trying.

Tying in with Maher’s fifth point of allowing yourself a reward is psychotherapist Barbara Neitlich’s philosophy, who says, "Congratulate yourself for your progress. The problem is that many individuals have a very black and white attitude. They see it as either you have achieved your goal or you have failed, but there is a grey area." Don’t hesitate to allow yourself a little treat when you reach a milestone! It’s something worth celebrating, and looking forward to that little indulgence is sometimes enough to keep us motivated – even when we really don’t feel like it.

Conversely, according to Julie Christopher of the Entrepreneur, the best way to achieve a New Year’s resolution is to focus on one habit to start and work toward changing that – whether it’s cutting out that little delectable sweet something after dinner, or quitting smoking. We don’t need to take on the world in the New Year, focusing on one positive change is enough.

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