Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions

December 6, 2017

Most of us do it each year with little success to show for it--we write up a list of New Year’s Resolutions and we shoot for the moon. By February or March, you realize that you’ve crossed one thing off your list and feel overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations you’ve set for yourself. If this sounds familiar, it’s not something to feel bad about. In fact, it’s very human.

A 2016 article from Psychology Today details the science behind the ineffectiveness of these kinds of resolutions. Susan Weinschenk, PhD says that, “If your resolutions are around things like eating healthier, exercising more, drinking less, quitting smoking, texting less, spending more time ‘unplugged’ or any number of other ‘automatic’ behaviors then we are talking about changing existing habits or making new habits. Habits are automatic, ‘conditioned’ responses.”

This important detail comes with bad news and good news. It means that it doesn’t make sense for us to try to change everything in our lives all at once when the year starts over. The good news is that because habits are conditioned, it’s very possible to undo bad ones and replace them with healthier habits in smaller strides.
According to the article, the best way to go about resolutions is to come up with smaller, more manageable habits we want to create. Weinschenk suggests three things based on research:

  1. Pick a small, specific action like walking for 10 minutes per day instead of “run 3 miles a week”.
  2. Attach the action to a habit you already have, i.e. “if you already go for a brisk walk 3 times a week, then adding on 10 more minutes to the existing walk connects the new habit to an existing one. The existing habit ‘Go for walk’ now becomes the ‘cue’ for the new habit: ‘Walk 10 more minutes.’” And last but not least…
  3. Make the new action EASY to do for at least the first week. The easier it is for you to begin and continue to practice, the more easily you’ll be able to condition yourself long-term.

On top of these scientifically backed methods, there are other creative ways to rethink resolutions. Even if it feels trendy or exciting to set large New Year’s Resolutions, trying to take those big leaps might not help you in the long-run. Breaking down your resolutions into daily, weekly, or even monthly goals is probably more plausible and easier to manage. This also allows you to have fun with your resolutions, switch them up more often, and find new ones as your life changes.
Ways to creatively set resolutions:

  • Set daily intentions.
    Begin each day by writing down a mantra, motto, or perspective that you want to focus on. For example, your daily intention could be anything from getting all of your work done and leaving the office by 6pm, to having one productive conversation with a client or coworker. It could also be something small and helpful for yourself, such as responding positively to everything that day.
  • Set weekly or monthly goals.
    These are much easier to keep track of than yearly goals and make it possible to put them into a smaller timeframe.
  • Check in with yourself if a goal or resolution doesn’t seem to be working.
    How can you adjust it and try again tomorrow or next week? At the end of each week or month (whichever you choose), you can check in with yourself and assess if your goals are working and if not, what might be hindering you.

At the end of the day, it’s much more helpful to check in with ourselves more frequently about our goals than to set multiple resolutions for a whole year. This can feel overwhelming and prevent us from making progress.

How do you personally set resolutions for the new year or throughout different time periods in your life?
Let us know in the comments! And let us know if you have any particularly interesting or challenging resolutions for 2018