New Year's resolutions are something of a tradition. At a time when many of us hope to be able to put any negativity from the previous year behind us and look to a better, brighter future, we recognize our own agency in our lives, and so we resolve to change what we're doing in order to improve our futures -- we make New Year's resolutions.
Even though we know they don't work.
An article published in Inc. magazine states "about 60% of us admit that we make New Year's resolutions". Yeah, that's not a misquote. 60% of us "admit" to making resolutions. Does the author think that number should be higher? That there are people out there who are just too embarrassed to admit to making resolutions? Maybe. I wouldn't be surprised if there were -- we know they don't work! In fact, when I asked the Toastmasters if they would have any faith at all in some guy they had never met and knew nothing about if they heard him talking about his resolution out on the yard, not a single hand was raised.
That expectation that resolutions will fail is actually statistically supported: a U.S. News and World Report states that 80% of resolutions fail by February. That means that, if 60% of us make resolutions to begin with, only 12% of people have an active resolution by February. My own (rather improvised) research demonstrates this well: I haaaate going to the gym in the first few weeks of the new year because it's always PACKED. But if you wait 2-3 weeks, the resolution warriors will disappear and you can get that workout machine you waited 20 minutes for last week.
The article in Inc. magazine goes on to state that "8% of us" are successful in our resolutions, which.... that's great, but I have some questions. 8% of what? Cuz if it means 8% of everyone that's one in 12.5, but if it's 8% of those who make resolutions, that's one in 20.8, so it actually makes a very significant difference.
An article in Psychology Today explains the reasons so few of us achieve our resolutions by giving four common reasons resolutions fail:
1.) Your goals are not clear.
2.) You feel overwhelmed.
3.) You feel discouraged.
4.) You're not ready to change.
The good news is that if your resolution lasts into February, you seem to have about a fifty-fifty chance of being successful. In any case, you should certainly have made it past most of the pitfalls listed above!
The reason I care enough to write a post about this, surprisingly, isn't just because I enjoy raining on resolutions... well shoot, okay maybe a little bit, BUT I have better excuses!
I actually want to help people to be successful in making positive changes. Towards that end, I have several points of advice to offer.
First, I want you to not make resolutions -- I know, "if I don't make resolutions I can't fail, it's foolproof!!" Well yeah but that's not actually what I mean -- don't make resolutions, set goals.
Calling a goal anything but a goal doesn't make it anything but what it is. Setting your goal on New Year's Day does NOT grant it extra power. Giving it a fancy name does NOT grant it extra power. In fact, the expectation that either of those things will make it stronger may only serve as an excuse to not go through a proper goal-setting process.
There's a tool for setting goals called S.M.A.R.T. Goals. This tool states that a good goal should be...
Several of those requirements, specifically Specificity, Measurability, and being Time-Bound, address the first reason Psychology Today gave for resolutions failing: lack of clarity.
While we're on the subject of lending power, it is a good idea to find someone with the same goal as you and to work together. This will help you to not fall prey to the second and third common reasons for failing -- feeling overwhelmed or discouraged -- because you have someone by your side the whole way through.
My next advice is to set small goals. While I understand the desire to set a huge goal on a huge event like the birth of a new year, setting a bigger goal dramatically reduces your chances of succeeding -- this speaks to your goal being Attainable, and also reduces the chances that you will feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
If you do want to set a huge goal, break it down into steps and think of each step as a goal. If I want to accomplish something enormous like walking from New York to Las Vegas, I have to start with one step. If I skip that first step, or any step, I won't make it. So again, set small goals, especially if they're all in sequence to something huge.
My final piece of advice is actually what some of you thought my first piece of advice was: DON'T MAKE NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS!!
If you're putting something off until New Year's Day.... you're still putting it off!! which means you are likely to fail due to the fourth reason: you are not ready to change.
Don't be pressured into making a New Year's resolution just because it's a tradition.
Instead, if you're ready to change something in your life, I would encourage you to think about the immortal slogan of Nike.
Just Do It -- don't make a New Year's resolution, but resolve to change your life by setting a goal, and do it today.
With encouragement and optimism, Devin McCrary
P.S. I know this post is a little bit... *ahem* untimely? and I apologize for that.
I do hope that you'll still take advantage of the S.M.A.R.T. tool I mentioned, though, and take the time to develop any resolutions you may have into full goals. Good luck, and Happy (belated) New Year! ^.^
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