New Year's is a great opportunity to reflect on how far we've come and where we hope to go next. The trouble is, most of us then proceed to set entirely unrealistic resolutions that we ultimately fail. Here are the most common failed resolutions, and how to approach them instead.
New Year's resolutions are tricky. In theory, they're a great idea, but most of us make too many at once, make them too vague, or just aren't motivated. This year, do better: find a good resolution, learn what steps it takes to get there, and make it easy to achieve.
"I'm Going To Lose Weight"
According to both Statista and Statistic Brain, the single most common New Year's resolution is to lose weight. It also violates two of the top rules for creating effective resolutions. Problems? For starters, "losing weight" isn't very specific. It could be five kilos or 50. It's also an admirable goal that actually encompasses a lot of little goals, which can be overwhelming. So, if you want to make it more feasible, try aiming for those instead. For example:
- "I'm going to log my eating and workout habits." Forget changing your habits right off the bat. Start by observing them. By keeping a log of what you eat and how much you work out, you give yourself a framework for what to do next. From there, your goals aren't abstract and lofty, they're manageable and simple.
- "I'm going to change one thing about my eating habits each month." You can start small to change your diet and build a foundation of new habits. Removing a single unhealthy food or reducing portion sizes may not seem like much, but it's practical. You can use each little change as a stepping stone to move up to newer challenges.
- "I'm going to work out three days a week." Everyone says they're going to start hitting the gym, but without a concrete goal there's nothing to keep you motivated. So give yourself a set number of days, and work out those same days each week. The key is to fit it into your routine and keep yourself motivated so you actually stick to it. If you need some ideas, our Lifehacker Workout might be a good place to start.
There are hundreds of small changes you can make that affect your weight. The key is to choose one or two that are easy to manage. Once you get the hang of that, you can skip ahead to the last section.
"I'm Going To Spend Less And Save More"
If there's one resolution that's ripe for big promises and crushing failure, it's the vague intent to do "better" with your finances. Whether it's to "spend less money" or a promise to "save more", here are some more specific goals you should try:
- "I will create and stick to a monthly (or weekly) budget." Instead of promising to "shop less" for the entire year, take a look at your monthly budget for January and allocate everything to a specific purpose. Then make sure you review and tweak it it every week or month (that's the actionable part) to make sure you stick to it.
- "I'm going to set aside money automatically." As long as you budget well, there's no need to "resolve" to save anything. You can split your direct deposits, and schedule transfers withdrawals to external savings accounts.
The best part about financial resolutions is that they're easy to quantify. If you want to improve your finances in the new year, start by picking a number. Whether it's for the year, the month, or the day, giving yourself a specific amount of money you want to save can help narrow down your resolution to something that's precise enough to pull off.
"I Plan To Enjoy Life, Worry Less, Be Happier, Etc."
At this point, you might be beginning to detect a pattern. Despite being vague and directionless, resolutions like "enjoy life" and "worry less" maintain top-of-the-chart status. Fortunately, they're not impractical. They just need a bit of direction.
- "I will schedule time to worry." You heard me. You want to worry less? Put it in your schedule. Worry is an emotion just like any other and commanding yourself to feel less of it is going to be less productive than funnelling it into a healthy outlet.
- "I'm going to take two real holidays this year." It's often challenging to schedule holiday time. If your goal is to enjoy life, don't cave in. Science will even back you up. Studies show that when people spend your money on experiences rather than more crap, they report a higher rate of satisfaction.
- "I will learn this new skill." Gaining new abilities is not only great for personal satisfaction, it can improve other aspects of your life. It boosts your brain power and improve memory, especially for the elderly. You can even use this special tracker to keep up with your progress over the first 100 days. Once that's done, you can learn a new skill. Resolutions aren't just for January!
"I Want To Be A Better Person"
Despite being the third most common resolution last year according to Statista, it's terribly inspecific. Resolutions in general are aimed at improving yourself, so saying you resolve to "be a better person" is a bit like saying you "resolve to resolve something". As we established earlier, specific goals are better. In this case, that might include:
- "I'm going to donate X per cent of my income this year." Giving to charities is a worthy goal, and one that's easy to set up automatically. If you want to make a positive change for others, this is a great way to start. There are plenty of other ways to contribute to charities without spending any extra cash.
- "I'm going to work on being less angry/more self-controlled/more attentive." Being a "better person" is vague. "I'd really like to stop punching so much stuff" is specific. If that's your problem, learn to manage your seething rage productively. Or you can try to work on your self-control. Or improve your attention span. Whatever you do, narrow down the field.
- "I will meditate once a day." It may sound silly but meditation has a host of psychological and physical benefits associated with it. If you want to stick with the broad "be a better person" goal, meditation is a good specific way to do that. It can reduce stress, improve memory and boost creativity. Plus, getting started is dead simple.
"My New Year's Resolution Is…"
If you get right down to it, the cynical truth is that there's nothing special about New Year's. We all collectively agree to take a look back at the past and get excited about writing the wrong year on all of our paperwork for the next month. While this is a great excuse to self-assess, the truth is that changing your ways is a year-long process and if you fail your resolution by February, you can try again in March. If you're going to set some resolutions, come prepared to track your progress.
- "I'll create new resolutions all year long." Instead of planning to lose 30 kilograms in a year, aim to establish new eating habits by February, a new workout routine by April, drop your first five kilograms by June, and so on. In practice, you may end up doing the same thing, but by breaking it down, you make it less overwhelming and you can adapt your goals.
- "I'm going to sign up for a goal tracker." While setting a dozen goals for the new year might get overwhelming, a tracker can help make sure you keep up throughout the year. Accompl.sh specialises in year-long goals by locking them in for 365 days, but if you want a bit more flexibility, you have plenty of options.
- "I'm going to share my goals publicly." Even if you don't have someone on your case about it 24/7, putting your resolutions on a public medium can increase pressure on yourself to make sure you get it done. Not only can this help you avoid vague resolutions (it's difficult to log or quantify "be happier"), but you can use social media or public trackers to look back at your progress throughout the year.