As we have already begun the all-new 2022, we may feel more aware or confused, more focused or distracted, more poised or ruffled, more driven or more settled, more ambitious or content — which is all fine. Whatever our mood, we are preoccupied with working out a list of resolutions and how to keep them this time.
So, despite our best intentions, why is it so difficult to stick to resolutions?
Most people blame their failure to fulfil resolutions on a lack of time, resources, or motivation, or a loss of zeal after starting. Only a small percentage of people are able to follow through on their resolutions, whereas the majority give up within one to five weeks of starting, and many of these resolutions are repeated year after year.
There are many reasons why most New Year resolutions don’t stick. The main question is: What can be done about this?
New Year’s resolutions have been a huge part of our culture (even the ancient Babylonians made annual promises to their gods 4000 years ago), yet we’re quite bad at sticking with them.
Personal growth is important. Especially now when so much of the world feels chaotic and out of control, there’s no better time to take charge of your habits and goals.
Like any goal or habit you want to build, resolutions are easier to stick with if you choose ones that are manageable, can be tracked, and are meaningful to you.
Unfortunately, most of us see the New Year as an opportunity for sweeping changes to our character. We want to become healthier, more successful, and more attractive (while also learning a new language). These kinds of resolutions are simply ticking time bombs.
Instead, picking the right resolutions (whether at the end of the year or any other time) sets you up for success from the start. So, what do those look like?
1. Resolutions have to be manageable
How many of us are setting a New Year’s resolution to complete 5 pushups a day or read one sentence of a book?
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be thinking about and aiming for large, scary, ambitious goals, but that large goals need a manageable plan attached to them.
Psychologist Dr. Lynn Bufka writes: “It is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.
For example, you might want to get in shape or lose 10 kilos this year. Those are big goals that don’t really tell you how you’re going to complete them. Instead, how about saying, “I’m going to get in shape this year by building a habit of taking a 20-minute walk every morning.”
2. Resolutions need to have some progress you can track
Tracking progress helps you stay committed to goals. It gives you something to celebrate each day.
So, how will you track your 20-minute walk each morning?
You could set up a big calendar near your desk and write a large X on each day you walk, or you could use a fitness tracker, or even create an accountability group with friends who check in with you each day. The method is up to you. What’s important is that there is some daily reminder of what you’re working on and how you’re doing.
3. Resolutions will only stick if they’re meaningful to you
Lastly, we all are aware that we’re much more likely to hit a goal, build a habit, or stick with a resolution if they align with our core values.
In other words, you’re working towards something you care about for the right reasons. We want to switch jobs to make more money. We want to lose weight to be more attractive.
While these results might seem like powerful motivators, they’re actually not. Research shows that the most powerful motivation comes from intrinsic motivation — the values and purpose that you already have.
So, why do you want to lose weight or get into shape? This is where you ask ‘Why?’ and then use the answer as the basis for the next question.
All of a sudden, you have a resolution that has a deep personal connection and is much easier to stick with.
Why most resolutions fail?
Even if you pick the right resolutions, there’s still a good chance that you’ll drop the ball or lose focus at some point. That’s completely normal. Deep down, New Year’s resolutions are habits.
While most of us frame them as a specific goal, what we’re really saying is that we want to change who we are on a day-to-day basis. That’s no small task.
But, this does remind us of an ancient Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
The New Year is still as excellent a time as any to start working towards the changes you want to make. And more important than when you start is how you go about changing your behavior.
Here are more powerful ways to turn your resolutions into habits you’ll stick with for life:
It’s a lot easier to stick to your resolutions (for the short term and long term) if you start small and then ramp up later, as opposed to the opposite. Staying with the example above, if ideally you’d like to meditate for 10 or 15 minutes each day, think about starting out with five minutes a day. After you hit that target for a month or so, then ramp up to 10 minutes. Same goes for the walking example. Start with 5,000 or 7,500 steps a day, then increase to 10,000 after a month or two. Just doing something each day, no matter how small, will boost your will power.
Think near-term, not long-term:
It can be daunting to think about following through on a resolution forever, or even a year, or even just a month. So, think about resolutions like this: “I just have to do it this one day.” That is, take your resolutions day by day. As in: “I just have to meditate this one day.” Or: “I just have to get in my steps today.” Don’t think about tomorrow, next week, or the next few months. Just picture yourself doing that thing today (or not doing it today, if your resolution is to quit something). And then, once you succeed, set aside thinking about your resolution until the next day.
Break down big resolutions into small steps:
If your resolution is something like “I want a new job,” you’ll get nowhere fast until you break down your goal into several small steps. Consider that, to find a new job, you’ll need to do all of the following (and more): update your resume & your cover letters, update your LinkedIn profile, reach out to people in your network, look at job listings, go on job interviews, write thank-you notes, etc.
Replace unhealthy habits with good ones:
If one of your resolutions is to quit an unhealthy habit, like speaking negatively about other people, you’ll need to fill the time you previously gossiped with something else. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself having a hard time quitting that habit. Or, you might replace your unhealthy habit with another one, without even realizing it.
So, get proactive and create a new good habit to take the place of your old ones. If your resolution is to stop gossiping about people, resolve to compliment people. Instead of falling back on the habit of saying something negative about people, you’ll be on the lookout for times to fit in something positive to say (even if it’s only silently in your head to yourself). This way, you’ll be training your mind to think positively, not negatively, and thus improving on your mental health.
Enlist the help of others/getting yourself an accountability buddy:
Getting help from other people can be essential to sticking to your resolutions, and help from others comes in many forms. It could mean making the same resolution as a friend and inspiring each other to keep going and sticking with it. When other people know about your resolutions, they can offer help and encouragement and remind you what you promised to do and why. Which is why using this tip will go a long way toward helping you do what you promised to do.
We will continue to touch upon a little more on this subject. Stay tuned and keep at it!
(Part 2 of our blog shares important tips on how to improve the process)