We’re a species that enjoys patterns and predictability. Granted, life is full of surprises, and some are downright awesome; for example, finding a $100 bill or being mistakenly served two dinners on an overnight flight. Those are some great surprises. But at a macro level, we like knowing what’s ahead, and that’s why yearly beginnings are welcome with open arms. It’s a natural reset button, a perfect time to put our mistakes or things we want to leave in the previous year behind us and make changes for the year that awaits.
Depending on the person, New Year’s resolutions can be a handful or only one. Some folks end up making the same resolutions year in and year out and clearly need some help in the follow-through, while others are literal resolution slayers, fulfilling them year in and year out. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and we’re kicking off this article with a fundamental question – are New Year’s resolutions still important?
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Are New Year’s Resolutions Important?
Psychologically, New Year’s resolutions will always remain important. The follow-through is up to the individual, but the fact that you’re carving out time to re-evaluate your priorities in life, the goals you’re seeking to accomplish, and the barriers to achieving them is smart and strategic. But more than that, it’s an emotionally healthy step.
Most of the problems or things we find difficult to resolve in our lives are self-inflicted, but we obviously do not go about imposing them on purpose. Who would want to weigh themselves down with more baggage than they can carry? Instead, these are seemingly unconscious decisions we make, parts of a larger pattern that are difficult to break because we’re all human, and by nature, imperfect.
A New Year’s resolution is the identification (verbal, written, or both) of something you know either needs to be worked on or changed. Again, these can be light and frivolous, or downright serious and something that needs to be addressed ASAP. The level of seriousness will depend on the individual. New Year’s resolutions are important ritual activities, and if carried out correctly, aim at making us better human beings.
Why Do Most Resolutions Fail?
The sad truth – most resolutions fail. And the worst part is you don’t even get a participation medal for trying. New Year’s resolutions fail for a whole set of reasons. The positive, however, is this can be changed as it’s a behavioral change, nothing else.
First up, most resolutions never make it out of the starting gate as they aren’t specific enough. For example, if your resolution is to exercise more, just what does that mean? Are we talking about running an extra 5 miles a week, exercising two more days a week, joining a Crossfit gym? All of these sound great, but unless there’s some specifics involved, it’s too easy to avoid the issue altogether.
A specific resolution (that could be associated with exercising more) is pledging to run in a 10K race before March, another before June, a third before October, and then a final race before December. Once those dates are in the calendar, you need to train for the 10K, and this all results in additional exercise.
Another rookie mistake when it comes to defining resolutions that are sure to fail is the use of negative language. Ever heard someone tell you, “My resolution this year is to stop eating junk food.” That’s a good resolution, but the resolution is framed around stopping or avoiding something. Turn that frown upside down by mixing in some positive language – for example, “I’m going to eat more carrots and celery as a snack every week.” That’s positive and something you don’t have to stop or avoid.
Lastly, many resolutions fail because they aren’t focused on you. A common mistake is aspiring for something such as a higher position in your company or even an advanced degree. These are noble aspirations, but if you’re making them a resolution because you think this is what someone in your position should be doing, instead of asking the all-important question – “Do I really want this?” – then you’re bound to fail. Many folks aim to please others with resolutions, and those will crash and burn every time.
How Do I Set a Resolution?
So now that we know why most resolutions fail, setting an achievable resolution is the next step. We talked about making resolutions positive and specific – this is worth mentioning again. If you keep attempting to read more books and eat less chocolate, odds are you’ll arrive to February still confused on the first steps while binge-watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and devouring your third Snickers bar.
Keep resolutions specific, positive, focused on you, and write them down. The latter is critical. When you write something down and then make it public (posting it on the refrigerator, etc.), the resolution is now known to others. They can keep you accountable, ask you how you’re progressing, and keep friendly tabs on you. A motivational planner like this one can help keep you on track.
As with any objective or goal, figuring out the follow-through plan is just as important as defining the goal. A New Year’s resolution is always exciting over the first couple of weeks; there’s a reason why gyms receive a host of new clients every January. People start the year on fire with the idea of losing weight and finally getting back into those jeans from high-school. February then rolls around, and eventually March, and because there’s no follow-through plan to get you through those subsequent months, the resolution eventually dies.
Taking the workout resolution as an example, having a weekly calendar on the fridge where you can tick off your attendance or achieving a certain weight is a great plan. It’s public, and it evolves over time as well.
And lastly, when defining your resolutions, set aside some time to celebrate the successes. If your resolution was to run multiple 10Ks throughout the year, after that first one is complete, make a reservation for your closest friends and family and celebrate that evening. Involving others and celebrating your successes makes the resolution fun and worth striving for throughout the year.
How Can I Stay Motivated?
Without the proper motivation, your New Year’s resolutions are bound to fail. One of the first things to understand is “your why.” There’s a deeper reason as to why you chose the resolution(s) you did. This is the purpose behind every resolution, and remaining clear surrounding the “why” is critical.
Next, a vision is required if you want to succeed over the long-term. Like a company’s vision statement, if the vision doesn’t speak to a greater, long-term aspiration, then you’ll likely give up during those dog-days of March and April.
We mentioned earlier the need for positive goals and a plan. When you talk about your resolutions to others, use positive language to describe them. Nobody wants to hear about you eliminating fast food. Rather, they might be inspired by you adding to your diet fresh fruit and veggies daily. Your plan should be clear, public, and contain mini-goals that you can achieve, check off, thus keeping you motivated over the long-term.
Finally, tackle all procrastination head-on, with the enthusiasm of a lion racing down a gazelle. Procrastination is to New Year’s resolutions as a coffee stain is to a white tee. If you let it sink in for even a minute, it will ruin the shirt for good. Once you feel that all-too-familiar feeling of procrastination coming around, nip it in the bud immediately. It’s a killer!
The Association for Psychological Science covers procrastination more in-depth here.
To Sum It Up…
New Year’s resolutions still matter, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. All kidding aside – they really do, and we ran through a host of important topics that demonstrate just that. The sad truth is most resolutions fail. Ever met that guy or gal that’s had the same resolution for the last 5 years? Those folks are everywhere (our apologies if it’s you), but change is possible.
Resolutions that lack specifics are also in line for a pre-mature death. So are those that are overly negative and lack a well-thought-out plan. We touched on the importance of all three, and how to remain motivated and excited about your resolution.
A resolution is supposed to be an engaging experience. Make them public, ask for help when needed, and keep them alive. Hitting the following December with some clear wins and changes in your life will give you a warm, bubbly feeling and something to ring in that subsequent New Year.
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