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New year resolutions: Why normal goals don’t work

A new year resolution is the pinnacle of goal setting. The glow of the holidays set up a rosy outlook on the new year, and aspirations are lofty. We’re relaxed, in great moods, and so optimistic about the possibilities ahead of us. The sky is the limit! But that’s part of the problem.

Some research suggests that 75-80% of people have given up on their new year resolution by mid-February. In my experience, that sounds about right. In large part, this comes down to two major, immediate factors here that mean many of our resolutions are not set up to succeed. If we can address these, we significantly increase our chances of making those resolutions stick!

Timing is everything

The start of a new year seems like a great time to make changes. New year, new me, right? Realistically, choosing the first of the year probably makes our desired changes a lot harder to stick with. The timing is off!

By the time January 1st roles around, we’ve have a solid three to five weeks of the holiday season and all the festivities that accompany it. That’s a lot of time out of routine, and for many people, that’s time spent indulging in food, drink, and sleep that aren’t normal for us. It’s not really typical of our daily lives. This can lull us into a false sense of “I have plenty of time for new things”, which quickly falls by the wayside as we get back to normal.

What to do instead: Tweak your new year resolution to match your “normal” daily routine. Take into account the time you spend working, commuting, doing chores and providing care for others. And remember to leave some time for hobbies and other things you enjoy. Does your goal, or the steps you need to take to achieve it, need to change in order for it to realistically fit into your days? Maybe you can make it smaller, simpler, or give yourself a longer deadline to achieve it.

(Goal) Size matters

Our culture is all about “go big or go home”. That’s cool, but actually hard to do. Here’s why: Big is overwhelming. It’s sometimes harder than we expect. Sometimes achieving big things is more complex than we realised. Most commonly, we just don’t know where to begin.

That’s not to say big goals are bad goals. In fact, big goals are usually the ones that get us excited. I mean, if you want to lose weight, losing 20kg (or 44 pounds) is way more inspiring than losing one, even though losing one is much more achievable and sustainable.

What to do instead: Break it down. Big goals just need a little extra thought and planning in order to be more easily achieved. There are many ways to break down your big goal into smaller, more achievable pieces. It can be as easy as taking the time you give yourself, and dividing that and your goal into smaller sections. By breaking things down, you get the positives both of something that doesn’t seem too big to accomplish. And you get a lot more “reward buzz”, my term for the feeling you get when you do what you say you’re going to do. Taking action can be as rewarding as the big goal itself.

Tweak ’til it’s right

You don’t have to throw out your new year resolution and start from scratch. Instead, sit down and spend some time considering the above points. If you’re going to keep working away at the goal you set on Jan 1st, it’s worth figuring out what you need to do to achieving it in small pieces, what actions will make those achievements happen, and how they are going to fit into your normal non-holiday life. It’s a different type of exercise, but like any other, very much worth doing!

What do you think?