As the last few days of 2023 approach, we sit down and reflect on the year that has passed. We ponder the lessons and takeaways and express our gratitude to the people and the experiences we’ve had – but we also look forward to the new year. When we sit down at the table with our friends and family, we might answer (or even ask) the common question, “What’s your new year’s resolution?”. For some, the answer comes quickly. The rest of us take a while longer to come up with an answer, and some might not even plan to set any. Some feel pressured to have one, and blurt out the same resolution every year, despite knowing that they will place little focus on maintaining it.
There might be good reason why some of us choose not to have New Year’s resolutions. As Harvard expert and author of Immunity to Change, Lisa Lahey, points out, albeit research has shown that humans are resistant to change, we tend to criticize ourselves when we fail. This disappointment results in people giving up on setting new year’s resolutions after a few years of failure.
The case for not setting New Year’s resolutions is not unjustified. A study on longevity of new year’s resolutions has found that 77% of people give up after a week, and only 19% of people manage to make a long-term change. Another study observing success predictors in resolvers and non-resolvers found that 54% of people are not able to keep to their resolutions for more than half a year.
However, a mere 4% of non-resolvers (who had also made goals) were able to achieve their goals. This shows that people who made resolutions had far more successful results in making a change in their lives. So what is the secret behind the success of maintaining new year’s resolutions and why do people fail?
Dr. Seth Gillihan, a clinical psychologist and author of Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy observes that the issue is that people make unrealistic resolutions and hope to attain these goals in a short period of time. Lisa Lahey echoes this sentiment when speaking with CNBC, “People have a very misguided notion that you can actually change fast. It’s just not true.”
Hence, ironically, having the mental strength to allow yourself to continue after you fail is the way to achieve your self-improvement goals for the new year. Here are some guidelines with examples on how to make better new year’s resolutions to be a better version of yourself in 2024.
1. Set an intention before setting a new year's resolution
As experts have weighed in, many people give up on their resolutions early in the year because humans are programmed to dislike failing. The appeal of setting an intention is that you are setting up yourself for a journey and not an end point, therefore, there is no destination you can fail to reach at the end of the year. Even if you fail to maintain your resolution, you will still have an intention to support a better you.
Diana Raab, a psychologist and author, eloquently describes intention as the “beginning of a dream or desire”. Some people suggest to “set intentions, not resolutions”. However, resolutions are the driving forces in that transport us on our intentional journey, therefore, resolutions are still important to set. For example, the intention behind the resolution to improve fitness or lose weight, could be to live a healthier life, and this intention guides the resolutions you want to make. Regardless of whether you maintain your resolution at the end of the year, your intention gives you focus and helps you focus.
2. Plan to fail and prepare to forgive
“New year, new me” does not happen overnight, and there will be plenty of barriers along the way. A single setback, or even many, does not mean that your resolution is rendered useless and needs to be discarded.
To better prepare to face challenges, plan for the “what if’s” and “then what’s” when you are setting your new year’s resolution. Most of time, it will be “forgive yourself”, and then continue. For example, your resolution could be to set a spending limit for yourself each month. However, you should plan ahead for concessions on special occasions, rainy days, something you really like, or just a slipup.
You can minimize the temptation to give up when you have a backup plan because you are not necessarily failing. Budgeting for situations like these or simply forgiving yourself and reflecting on the experience will help you continue for longer.
3. Develop habits and build them into your routine
Some resolutions could lend themselves better to this tip than others. Because habits are developed and not formed immediately, you can allow yourself to be more forgiving of mistakes.
Be creative! If you resolve to eat a healthier diet, incorporate greens and fruits even if you are eating something that is unhealthy. That way, you will at least have some nutrition.
There are also many applications on the market that can help you build better habits such as focus, mindful spending, drinking water, etc. These applications keep you accountable for building habits.
4. Make resolutions more measurable and manageable
It is way easer to track progress when you have goals that are measurable and actionable. If you want to lose weight, it will be easier to have realistic goals that you can fulfil. You might have an ideal weight in mind, but there are many factors influencing your total weight lost, and those things are not always within your control.
Set targets like working out 3 times every week, rather than losing a certain amount of weight by the end of a period. Give yourself checkpoints and revise these goals every so often to see if these goals are still realistic for you to meet.
Another example of a resolution might be “get a promotion”. This is a goal that is often realistic, but not completely within your control. A better way to work towards this may be set performance targets for yourself or set self-improvement goals such as completing a certain number of leadership courses in the year. You can also check out our tips to achieve more at work.
Remember, a year is a long time and changes in life happen. It is important for you to adjust your expectations and revise your goals so that they remain realistic for your lifestyle and schedule.
5. If all else fails, set tasks as resolutions
Despite our suggestions, it might still be a challenge to maintain resolutions. If all else fails, remember that it is okay and we want to celebrate the small wins!
You could set a task, or a “one-off resolution”. The resolution could be as simple as that you want to watch a movie alone once, or finish a book. The beauty of this is that you can have multiple resolutions and there is no temptation to give up.
Since these tasks are so easy to complete, you do not even need to restrict yourself to only resolving every new year. You could even resolve to do something every quarter.
We hope these suggestions help you to achieve more in the new year and stick to your new year’s resolutions for longer. Remember that while you do not magically morph into a new version of yourself when the clock strikes 12, you have the whole year improve and develop a better you. After all, self-improvement and personal development is a life-long journey! All the best, and may 2024 bring you great success!