With the dawn of the new year comes New Year’s Resolutions.
You get your journal out, ready to plan out the year ahead.
You vow to eat better this year.
Learn a new language.
But if you’re anything like me, you’re still snacking on chocolate in front of the TV long after Christmas.
And it’s no surprise that we find resolutions so hard to keep. According to this U.S. News Health article, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail the second week of February.
Not exactly inspiring, right?
The thing I’ve learned about New Year’s resolutions is that we create very high expectations around them. The higher the stake, the bigger the loss.
Over the years though, I’ve learned not to worry so much if I fail my New Year’s resolutions because creating any new habit or change is hard. And there always seems to be setbacks or hiccups along the way to change.
But why is it so hard?
Habit Formation Takes Time
We see New Year’s resolutions as the end goal, forgetting that habit formation is a long process. In fact, Gretchen Rubin says that the average time for a habit to form takes 66 days instead of 21 days, as some people claim. She also explains that habit formation varies among people (some habits are harder to create than others and some people are very habit-resistant). Don’t be surprised if a habit takes much longer to create than you thought.
New Year’s Eve Makes Change A ‘Special Occasion’
It’s only natural that we’d associate the new year with a new change.
It’s a fresh start.
A clean slate.
A new page.
But do we put too much emphasis on resolutions for the new year?
The truth is that we can change ourselves anytime of the year. We don’t need to wait until New Year’s Day or until next year to make a change. We can decide to change right now.
If we take this approach, then not reaching our goals by the end of February won’t seem so bad. Instead of making resolutions only when the new year rolls around, why not continue making goals year-round and maintain a growth mindset?
Goals Aren’t Specific Enough
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about setting goals is that they need to be specific.
Saying, “I’ll lose weight next year” is very vague, for example.
But saying something like, “I’ll lose 4 pounds a month starting the week of January 25th” is super specific and clear.
In short, it’s a SMART goal. SMART criteria are a set of guidelines used when creating objectives for project management or personal development. SMART stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.
The SMART goal of losing 4 pounds a month is specific, achievable and reasonable. It’s also something you can track with a weight scale. And it’s time-based, so it has urgency.
I’ve always found that if a goal is very broad and unclear, it’s too overwhelming and seems too hard to achieve. But, if you really narrow it down this way, it seems less daunting and you can further break that goal down into more manageable steps.
Goals Aren’t Written Down
Writing your goals down is incredibly powerful.
Almost every goal I’ve written down I’ve followed through with.
Mark Murphy in this Forbes article explains that people are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve their goals when they vividly describe those goals in written form.
Murphy explains that there are two things happening here: external storage (putting the goal on a piece of paper externally stores it) and encoding (writing it down also helps encode the information into our long-term memory). So the goal is being both reinforced and stored in our mind.
I was amazed when I flipped back through an old journal from a few years ago and found my long-forgotten bucket list. It was very specific, detailing the sights and locations I wanted to see. When I reviewed that list not too long ago, I realized that I’ve already visited more than a few places on that list!
Don’t let the low success rate of New Year’s resolutions discourage you. Forming any new habit takes time, discipline and self-awareness — no matter what time of year. Whenever I’ve set goals for the year ahead, failure has always been a part of the equation. But I welcome it and learn from it. Failure keeps me growing and keeps me humble.
So ring in the new year with your resolutions and don’t be afraid of failing. You’ve still got the whole year ahead of you!