No matter what we tell ourselves, the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions aren’t made to be kept. The promise that next year will be a little better if you just work hard enough is powerfully attractive — so attractive that we ignore how rarely it actually happens.
One of the biggest reasons that New Year’s resolutions fail is poor goal-setting. Think of the typical resolutions that go along with a “new year, new me” attitude: Lose a ton of weight, start a rigorous gym schedule, adopt a strict diet, make major career moves, save or earn a lot more money, and often, all of the above. Taking on some or all of these goals at once is basically asking yourself to become a different person in a year — it’s not technically impossible, but it’s not a realistic or healthy undertaking, either. If you’re serious about actually sticking to your resolutions this year, you should know what makes a promise to yourself impossible to keep.
Don’t expect miracles
There’s nothing magical about Jan. 1. Sure, the end of the year is the perfect time to reflect on your personal situation and how you might improve it, but that doesn’t mean you can (or should) expect New Year’s resolutions to overhaul your life.
Extreme goals — rapid, unsustainable weight loss; starting a million-dollar company; doing a DIY gut renovation on your entire house when you’ve never held a hammer — aren’t just wishful thinking, they’re also potentially dangerous. Because they’re such tall orders, you’re unlikely to make much, if any, progress, which only fuels feelings of shame and guilt. What’s worse: Any progress you do make will come at the cost of your physical, emotional, and/or financial well-being.
Another great way to fail at New Year’s resolutions is to set way too many of them. A long list of goals can be totally overwhelming, which pulls your focus and makes it harder to actually achieve what you set out to do. If you truly want to make some life changes, keep the scope manageable. For most people, that means sticking to two or three resolutions at the absolute most.
Don’t set up future conflicts
Resolution overload isn’t just a matter of taking on more than you can reasonably handle. It can also look like setting an appropriate number of goals that directly conflict with each other. For example, making 2022 the year you finally build a home gym is a great goal — as long as you don’t also make it the year you cut down on hobby spending. Before deciding on a resolution action plan, do a quick sanity check to make sure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot.
Do keep it simple and specific
The best way to keep your resolutions realistic and plausible is to be as specific as possible. Rather than simply saying you want to “get healthy” or “go green” or “focus on your relationships,” define what those goals actually mean to you.
In practice, this means asking yourself pointed questions: Is “getting healthy” code for “changing your diet?” If so, what kind of changes do you want to make, and why? What does “going green” look like in terms of daily behaviours? What relationships do you want to “focus on,” and how? Whatever your answers may be, use them to lay out specific, concrete criteria for meeting your goals. This way, you’ll know exactly what it takes to stay on track — and when all your hard work has finally paid off.