Why Not to Make New Year’s Resolutions, And What to Try Instead

(3 min read)

I don’t like to sound like a downer, but only about a quarter of Canadians who make New Year’s resolutions will actually keep them, according to a recent Ipsos poll. This means that if you’re one of 77% of people who make a resolution come New Year’s, then statistically, you’re more likely than not to keep it.

I’m personally not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They tend to be flighty, vague, and, oftentimes, they’re made while drinking numerous cocktails just hours before the end of the calendar year.

They also seem to revolve around the same themes over and over again, including weight loss, quitting smoking, spending less money, and getting organized (see a list of some of the most popular resolutions of 2015 here).

That’s not to say that I don’t think you should aim for self-betterment. In fact, quite the opposite. I’m a huge fan of continuously striving to grow and evolve into the best version of yourself, and the new year is a great time to put focus on your personal progress.

 

New Year's Quote

 

When it comes to ringing in the new year, however, I never make resolutions. Rather, I happen to be an avid goal-setter, and highly recommend this as a method of making positive change. Unlike resolutions, goals tend to be a little more concrete and, as a result, a lot more attainable.

For example, instead of saying,

“I resolve to be healthier this year,”

a new year’s goal might sound more like,

“I’m going to drink one green smoothie every afternoon, and go to the gym 3 times per week.”

If set with intention, they can also allow for personal growth in a wide number of meaningful areas of your life, rather than just focusing on weight loss or whatever it is that society tells you you should do this year.

So, where do you start?

A good place to start is to divide your life up into various categories that hold meaning for you. This could be anything from family and friends, to hobbies and interests, to work. It doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re areas of your life that you, personally, value.

Then, think of one or two specific and meaningful things you would like to do to improve yourself in each of these areas. Try to make sure you state them in a way that progress can be measured. In other words, work numbers, times, and/or deadlines into your goals.

For example:

Family and Friends

  • Write one email per month to a friend who I haven’t talked to within the last 6 months

Hobbies & Interests

  • Read one new book every six weeks

Work

  • Attend 3 networking events over the course of the year, and make one new connection on LinkedIn every 2 weeks

A tradition of mine is to sit down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and review my goals from the previous year. I like to see which ones I’ve achieved, which ones I haven’t, and which ones were partially accomplished. It’s easy to get down on yourself if you focus on what you didnt do, and let’s be realistic, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually accomplish 100% of your goals (this is yet to happen for me!). Obstacles come up, you can have a change of heart, or you can simply slip (you’re human, after all!). So, at the end of your goals list, acknowledge any progress made, and list any additional accomplishments that were attained along the way.

Maybe, for example, you didn’t write one email per month to old friends, but you joined a sports league and made 5 new ones. Perhaps, you didn’t attend 3 networking events, but you attended 2 and got a promotion.

This is an important point.

If you bettered yourself over the course of the year, then it doesn’t necessarily matter whether each and every goal was attained. If you feel good for what you’ve done, and you’ve grown as an individual, then you’ve done something right. So, congratulations, and job well-done!

In the end, that’s all we’re really aiming for, isn’t it?

If you happen to feel ambitious, you can even journal about the progress you made over the last year. Write about what you accomplished, what you learned, where you went wrong… By creating a narrative, you make sense of what happened, are more likely to find meaning in events, and will feel a better sense of closure with any difficulties. This might involve an afternoon of your time and maybe even a heart full of emotions, but the benefits of writing about goals can be incredibly therapeutic and will even improve your physical health (King, 2001).

At the end of the day (or, end of the year!), if you’re skeptical about making new year’s resolutions but still value positive change, New Year’s goal-setting is a great place to start. Over the years, it can be really interesting to look back at all of the things you set out to do and actually did do each year. It’s like a mini biography, a growth chart, a year book of sorts…

So, with only hours to go until the turn of the clock, what do you think is in store for you next year? What adventures will you go on? What new projects or initiatives would you like to undertake? What are the things you’d like to learn? Ultimately, which steps do you want to take to becoming a better version of you?

Here’s to all the best for you and yours in 2016!

And, very happy goal-setting, too.

 ***


King, L.A. (2001). The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 798-807.

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