Ditch The New Year's Resolution: How To Set Goals You Actually Stick To
Every day this week, I’ve made my way to the gym bracing for the worst. I was ready to walk into a horde of new sign-ups, for no equipment to be free and for the air to be stuffy. To my surprise, every day, the gym has been almost empty. This is something friends of mine have echoed. So what's the deal? Don't people know it's New Year's Resolution season? Is our inability to follow through with our resolutions catching up to us? Are people figuring out how the story goes year after year and becoming jaded? Even though new year’s resolutions might be ineffective, goal setting doesn’t have to be.
I’ve always struggled with the idea of having a new year’s resolution, mainly because I’ve always been hard on myself when it comes to routines. Since graduating high school, I’ve slowly committed myself to more and more consistent routines regarding health, fitness, productivity and rest. For the most part, any meaningful breakthroughs came on the back of something I told myself (usually not in the most supportive way) I had no choice but to make happen from now on because it really mattered. Then boom, I’m at the gym before work 5 days a week. Or I’ve read a book or two a month. Results where I had only ever known failure, especially if it was a new year's resolution.
We should never lose our drive to better ourselves. It should also never come from a place of feeling insufficient or unworthy, but rather, a desire to grow into our best selves. That's something I came to learn later, and part of why the routines finally took hold when criticism didn't. If you want to grow in a way that is sustainable, ditch the new year’s resolutions and start elsewhere.
What is the motivation behind a new year’s resolution? What’s holding you accountable? Is it that post you made on social media about it? Is it wanting to be a part of the larger movement to start the new year off right? Do those things really have any weight behind them?
There are two ways I’ve seen lasting and meaningful change established most effectively.
The first way is to frame your resolutions as life-long changes. Things started to stick because I told myself that if I didn’t do right now, I never would. From that perspective, things that really needed resolutions got a more substantial foundation. If it was a frivolous pursuit, this perspective helped me see that, allowing me to really focus on what mattered.
You can’t expect all of your goals to take hold right away either. Some of the resolutions I set for myself years ago, didn’t take hold until a year or even three years later! Your question might be, how is this any different than making the same resolution every year until it sticks? It’s about mentality. Just the phrase new year’s resolution implies the short term. It also creates the idea of an end date: if I follow through to the end of the year, I did it. To do something that lasts, I need to be motivating myself in a way that will last beyond the end of the year and having that in the back of my mind didn't help. These are just my own opinions and certainly not reflective of every instance, but how we frame our goals matters.
I could tell myself I should go to the gym 5 days a week because #newyearnewme, or I could tell myself that establishing a lifelong routine of exercise will drastically improve my health and well being. That if I don’t discipline myself now, not only will I be losing out on short-term benefits, but I’ll be setting myself up to form routines at an age where it is much more difficult.
What is the thing you need to frame as a lifelong change, right now? Is it how you manage your time? Is it how you organize? Is it how you eat? Is it a skill you know you need to pick up now? Don’t clutter your mind with more goals than you can handle. Start big. Take time.
Other times, you just need to prove to yourself you are capable of following through. Hence the second option, short-term goals. If you’ve failed to meet your resolutions, it can get disheartening, and demoralizing. 12 months, is a long time. 30 days, is a little better.
Science has proven overwhelmingly, how beneficial setting short-term goals is to our mental health and ability to follow through. Something I’ve seen pop up here and there in 2018 is the 30-day new year resolution or 1-month challenges for the new year. It seems as though short-term resolutions could be the key to staying on trend and building some critical confidence in our ability to stick to a routine. These types of challenges also provide valuable momentum when looking to do something more long-term. Before you know it, you might have completed 12, 30-day challenges! I'd take that over one, failed new year's resolution.
Oddly, I started making changes with long-term changes, before I ever did my first 31-day challenge. This year, I hosted Dressember founder and CEO Blythe Hill on our podcast, “The Creative Leap by Dubsado.” Her organization raises millions every year to combat human and sex trafficking around the world. They empower thousands to do this, with the simple act of wearing a dress or tie, every day of December. Wearing a tie every single day was certainly not as much challenging as it was a clinic on discipline and commitment. At the end of the 30 days, I was not only proud of having helped raise money for such an important cause, but proud of having followed through on a specific goal for 30 days. I know how it feels now. What the pitfalls are. How to best motivate myself. I’ll be able to apply that knowledge, not only to my next 30-day challenge (i’m getting married in 3 months so I’m sure whole 30 wouldn’t hurt) but to any larger goals!
Now I have an announcement: i'm very excited to be making 2 new year's resolutions this year.
I know I’ve just spent a few words advocating for other more effective ways of meeting your goals, but hear me out. After a year of implementing new routines with success and completing 20-day challenges, something happened as I approached 2018. The idea or the weight of making a new year’s resolution had gone away. Prioritizing making changes that would benefit me throughout my life gave me freedom and peace. The freedom to approach the new year and ask myself, what little things I’d like to work on. The peace to know that I’m not counting on a new year’s resolution to do something truly important in my life.
The start of a new year is a new exciting time. It's a time when anything is possible and your best self is within your grasp. The road to consistency begins with just ONE day of feeling good about yourself! Being proud of the short term challenge you've completed. Being hopeful about the long-term goals you have. When you feel that, even for one day, you ask yourself why you wouldn’t want to feel like that every day. Hope is just one day at a time. Before you know it, you'll be making new year's resolutions you're excited about and ready to conquer.