Oscar Wilde once said: “Good resolutions are simply checks that people draw on a bank where they have no account.”
As humans, we’re not very good at keeping promises to ourselves. Take New Year’s resolutions. Year after year we promise ourselves: “After the Holidays I’ll get my fitness/finances/waistline/relationships back on track.” And what happens? They stall out and the sting of regret hangs in the air like wet laundry over a long-ignored Peloton bike.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Research shows four out of five New Year’s resolutions (81%) will be abandoned by mid-January. Another widely cited study found that one in four people (23%) quit their resolution after just one week. Fitness app Strava found the majority of users had given up on their New Year’s resolutions by January 19 (aka national Quitter’s Day).
In a minute, I’ll share some tips for increasing the odds of making your resolutions stick. But first let’s look at why they fail. Bottom line: behavior change is hard. It can be unpleasant, uncomfortable and takes time. That’s a tough sell in today’s era of life hacks, apps and instant gratification.
- Timing. New Year’s Day is an absolutely terrible time to start making accountability pacts with yourself. You’ve just spent the past month (or two) overindulging with friends, family and the Amazon delivery people. Your defenses and self-discipline are down. It takes time just to get back on track, let improve. But most people assume they can sprint out of the gate toward a better version of themselves, whether it’s breaking a bad habit or reaching a financial, fitness or mental health goal. As with so many things in life, it takes time and patience. You have to be committed for the long haul.
- Overly ambitious. Most people set New Year’s goals that are BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) instead of realistic, incremental ones. We tend to swing for the fences rather hitting solid singles. The problem with swinging for the fences is that you’re far more likely to strike out. If you haven’t run a quarter mile since junior high school gym class, don’t resolve to run a marathon within six months. It may work in the movies, but in real life, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment, injury and an unhealthy relapse. However, if you start with 20 minutes of walking a day with a goal of completing a 5K run in six months, your odds of success go up exponentially. And from there, you can talk about completing a 10K or half-marathon before year end with even more ambitious goals in 2023.
- All or nothing mentality. New Year’s resolutions tend to encourage “all-or-nothing” thinking. Success is measured as either a complete win or a complete failure. The problem with such “all-or-nothing” goals is that they don’t allow for even minor slip-ups. Once you fall off the bandwagon, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up entirely. This is a big reason why so many folks abandon their resolutions by February, according to the studies and surveys referenced above.
- Lack of specificity. New Year’s often resolutions fail because they’re too broad or too vague. “Read more,” “eat healthy foods,” “save more money,” or “fix my relationship” are examples of goals that lack any real specificity. This can be problematic for three reasons:
a) They’re not actionable. It’s difficult to know what exactly you need to do to achieve your goal.
b) They’re difficult to measure. It’s difficult to create mental milestones of success, as there’s no clearly defined end goal.
c) They lack accountability. If a goal is too vague, it can seem more like an aspiration rather than a practical, real-world target. With no target to aim for, you aren’t really accountable for hitting anything.
5 tips for making resolutions stick
- Be SMART. New Year’s resolutions are a form of behavior modification. To make this changing mindset stick, you want to be SMART about (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time Specific). If your goal is to lose 30 pounds by July 4th weekend (roughly 6 months from now), that means you should strive to lose five pounds per month or 1.25 pounds per week. That’s pretty specific and realistic and certainly very measurable. Small sub-goals are much easier to strive for than trying to reach a daunting, overwhelming task like “Lose 30 pounds this year.”
- Be consistent. As the old saying goes: “Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit. My recent post Consistency Is Not Boring has more.
- Turn resolutions into ingrained habits. For example:
- Resolution: Quit smoking vs. Habit: Stop smoking that one cigarette you have every morning after breakfast.
- Resolution: Eat healthy food vs. Habit: Start substituting that one daily morning pastry for a banana.
- Resolution: Lose weight vs. Habit: Every evening after work, go for a two to three-minute run or walk around the block.
- Resolution: Manage stress vs. Habit: Meditate for two to three minutes every morning after you wake up.
- Resolution: Improve finances vs. Habit: Save an extra 2 percent of each paycheck and put half into my 401(k)s low-cost index fund and the other half into a high-yield savings account at my bank.
*** For more on making resolutions habit forming, see Sahil Bloom’s 30 for 30 Challenge.
- Take resolutions for a test drive in December. After following Steps 1-3 above (preferably soon after Thanksgiving), see what it’s like to pursue the “new you.” Have you bitten off more than you can chew? Is attainment of the goal going to interfere with your work, make you too fatigued to concentrate or compromise relationships with co-workers and family? If so, it’s time to dial back your goals before you go live with your resolutions in 2023. Your friends, family and co-workers will thank you and be more supportive of you when you’re not manic or irritable all the time.
- Have an accountability partner. As the old saying goes, “it’s easier to let down yourself than it is to let down someone you trust.” Share your resolution with a person you can trust who won’t let you make excuses or talk you out of striving toward your goal.
Eating an entire elephant is impossible. But taking it one bite at a time makes a daunting challenge seem manageable. Tweak your resolutions all year long (See Step 4) and don’t beat yourself up for falling short. Instead of throwing in the towel, dust yourself, get back on the horse and set more realistic goals for the remainder of 2023.
As Napolean Hill famously said: “A goal is just a dream with a deadline.”
What’s your take? I’d love to hear from you.
#resolutions, #selfimprovement, #dedication, #goalsetting, #30for30