Every New Year’s Eve, we resolve to be better. We set goals to become healthier, to improve our career, to quit a bad habit--and by year’s end, about three-quarters of us have failed miserably to achieve any of that.
Psychologists have come up with a number of reasons to explain why this happens. The most common problem, they say, is we try to change too much too soon and we don’t have any concrete plans in place to help us achieve our goals. But many of us also fail because, frankly, we resolve to do things we think we ought to but that we don’t really want to.
The U.S. government’s web site for New Year’s resolutions (which includes links to help people achieve their goals) notes that the same resolutions are popular year after year. According to the site, the top resolutions (in no particular order) are as follows:
- Drink less alcohol
- Eat Healthy Food
- Get a Better Education
- Get a Better Job
- Get Fit
- Lose Weight
- Manage Debt
- Manage Stress
- Quit Smoking
- Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
- Save Money
- Take a Trip
- Volunteer to Help Others
Resolve to do Something Meaningful
The higher you value the thing you’re trying to achieve, the more likely you'll be to do it. So this year, make a New Year’s resolution that really means something to you.
A couple of years ago, I interviewed New London psychologist and life coach Susan Epstein for a story about how to keep New Year’s Resolutions. To help people set and realize their goals, she said, she encourages people to ask themselves some fundamental questions first.
“If you had a realistic magic wand, what changes would you like to see by the end of the year?”
“What do you think would get in your way?”
“What drains your energy?”
“What would achieving your goal do for you?”
“What would be the best thing to happen if you achieved your goal?”
Asking these questions will help you set your goals and help you anticipate the stumbling blocks that might trip you up along the way. Once you have a goal in mind, create a realistic plan that will help you achieve it. Epstein recommends breaking it down into a series of smaller, measurable steps.
Even a marathon begins with a single step. As long as you’re moving forward, you’ll be coming closer to achieving your goal. Studies have found that it takes 28 days to change a habit, so take it one day at a time and take comfort in the fact that your new habits are likely to become a way of life after about a month.
“We can all take one step at a time,” Epstein said. The important thing is to keep your dream alive.
How to Set and Keep a New Year’s Resolution
The higher you value the thing you’re trying to achieve, the more likely you'll be to do it. So this year, make a New Year’s resolution that really means something to you and use these steps to help you achieve your goal.
- Be Realistic: Many people resolve to lose weight but while you might need to lose 50 pounds, you’ll have greater success and be less likely to be discouraged if you resolve to lose one pound a week. At that rate, you’ll have achieved your 50-pound goal by year’s end.
- See Success: Take small steps but don’t lose sight of the big picture. Pick an image—a old picture of you in skinny jeans, a bank statement you want to change, a picture of somewhere you want to visit--that you can see daily to remind you of your ultimate goal.
- List Pros and Cons: What happens if you succeed? What happens if you fail? Make a list of consequences and keep it with you as a reminder of why you set your goal and what you hope to achieve.
- Plan for Action: Do your homework to find out what you need to do to achieve your goal. Use that information to develop a realistic plan of action that includes measurable steps and strategies for every foreseeable obstacle. And don’t give up if you falter along the way.
- Note to self: Write a letter at the start of the year telling yourself where you hope to be in six months and by year’s end. Open it in June. Use it as a way to track your progress and to recommit to your original goals.
Good luck and Happy New Year!