Time to Resolve The Resolutions


January is long gone, and many of us may be finding that keeping the resolutions we made for ourselves has either stalled or begun to waver. Don't be concerned. This isn't another article about making unrealistic New Year's resolutions. Plus, we're already well into the new year.

We appear to be obsessed as a society with the idea of starting over, of becoming completely new people with new goals and better lives. Of course, this is much easier than dealing with the emotional aspects of change.

Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.

Unknown

Instead, we strive for improvements in our lives, bodies, families, and homes, simply seeking change rather than questioning why we want to change something. The tension that arises when we believe that something needs to change provides us with an opportunity to be curious and discover the 'why.'

Rather than listing tips and pointers to help you get your life back on track, let's look into the psychology of why New Year's resolutions fail but making changes in our lives does. We need to look a little deeper.

It's in the Wording

When it comes to conceptualizing change, how we describe a goal and the words we use matter. The words we tell ourselves, whether positive or negative, have an impact on how we progress and achieve our objectives.

We may set a goal, but we speak negatively to ourselves: "You're so fat, you need to work out more!" or "If you don't get this promotion, you're worth nothing." 

Assume you speak to yourself in this manner and achieve your goals. Is there anything new? Are you content now? You most likely aren't. The only difference is that you now have a goal on your mental checklist, but the 'why' is still the same: self-hatred.

Change is difficult for us, and maintaining that change can be a complicated and erratic process.

Darth Wader

According to one study, only enjoyment predicted long-term persistence. In other words, we make a fundamental error when we assume we will stick to a plan to achieve a goal simply because "we should be doing it."

Many factors, such as our upbringing and societal pressures, make it difficult to distinguish between what we 'should' do and what we want. The problem isn't so much with how we define or pursue goals as it is with our preference for tangible outcomes.

Confining our personal development and progress to annual and unrealistic resolutions leads us to aspire to goals that are designed to be checked off a list. As a result, it shapes our behavior.

We then set goals like "lose 20 pounds" rather than goals like "be more kind," which are much more difficult to achieve. We prioritize measurable results. According to Dr. Lisa Ordónez at the University of Arizona, when it comes to setting goals, we often measure what is easy to measure rather than what we truly want to do.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Les Brown

Don't Delay Your Gratification

New Year's resolutions are always exciting with a newfound sense of anticipation that comes with a new goal. But why is it so easy to give up after the initial thrill has worn off and the hard work of forming new habits begins?

The joy we get from what we do makes all the difference, depending on what we're trying to achieve or what goal we're trying to achieve. Assume that one of our goals is to start eating better and eating more vegetables, which was not something we could easily do in the past.

If eating healthy was difficult in the past, changing your diet may not be the most enjoyable experience in such a situation, especially if cooking healthy is difficult or healthy food is not readily available in your community.

We are all aware that the results we seek from eating healthy do not occur overnight. Meals can become boring or taste bad, or we may run out of time to cook after a long day. There are numerous reasons why we fail to keep the promises we make to ourselves.

Such a flutter of persistence isn't a flaw in the character, but it could be a flaw in the plan to introduce so much change at once and not enough enjoyment. Seeing our goals through simply because we believe we should or because they are "good" isn't enough to get us through the less exciting parts of change implementation.

Smaller rewards along the way may be a better way to help us enjoy change rather than waiting for the big reward at the end. Professor Seppo Iso-Ahola of the University of Maryland discovered that our leisure time is defined by our sense of freedom, and any threat to that sense of autonomy can elicit strong psychological resistance.

If you're like most people, you often have very few hours in the day left for yourself after work and family hours. For some, leisure time is more valuable than gold. 

Change is influenced by how you perceive your leisure time. If your goal is to become more physically active, going to the gym during your free time may seem like a chore or something that takes you away from your 'freedom.'

Leisure time looks different for everyone and does not always include turning off your brain to watch television. It all comes down to the freedom to do whatever we want in our spare time.

exercise

Changing your perspective on what your leisure time entails, such as going to the gym instead of watching TV, can be extremely intimidating and challenging at first. It's all about getting past the initial resistance and making the activity a habit.

Reframing our goals as a choice and revisiting that choice on a regular basis can help chip away at that initial resistance until it becomes habitual. It takes less effort and brainpower on our part when we rewire our brains to make something that was once difficult into a habit.

A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at

Bruce Lee

Redefining Our Goals

When it comes to feeling accomplished, how we define successful completion of a goal matters. It is critical to make goals easier to achieve by creating a more accessible environment in which to complete them rather than making a goal easy to "cross off" a list. 

Creating an environment that facilitates a task can help us stay focused on our goals. It may be difficult to begin or initiate, but something as simple as laying out your workout clothes on the couch the night before a morning workout is an easy reminder that you'd prefer to exercise over watching TV.

The time of day we try to form a new habit can make or break it. If you're having trouble, try changing the time of day you want to work on your new goal. Some of us have other obligations that take up time during the day.

Planning to work on something new and challenging during such times increases the likelihood of it not being completed due to other priorities, such as making dinner for your family. If you have the luxury of scheduling time for your personal goals, try scheduling them during times of the day when you have the least amount of competition from other tasks or responsibilities.

For example, the quietest times of the day are early in the morning and late in the evening. Keeping up later or waking up earlier may necessitate some extra effort, particularly if you have children who are already up early. Plan to work on your personal goal for an hour or so before the rest of the house wakes up in the morning.

Additionally, find an accountability buddy or someone who will help motivate you to keep going during lulls in your progress. Having a friend or partner working on a similar goal will also make the growing pains of change and new habit-making more enjoyable.

Takeaways

The bottom line is that when you reflect on your life, your memories will not reflect how frequently you ate, worked out, what promotion you received, or what car you purchased. 

Instead, the emotions associated with such occasions—proud feelings for taking that first step or making the decision to take your finances more seriously. Short-term objectives are just that: objectives.

Consider the 'why' and the journey you'll be able to look back on later in life when making New Year's resolutions or any goal throughout the year. 

There is no better path than the other, but perseverance is what will get us there. It's also important to self-reflect on how we might struggle along the way to achieving a goal and plan strategies to help us get through those moments when giving up is far too easy.

Persistence is not the same as perfection, and falling off for a few weeks is acceptable as long as you get back on track eventually. Make goals for a future that you will be proud of and that you will be able to celebrate in small ways along the way.

References

. (2022). Hedonic Treadmill . The Decision Lab.
Hill, F. . (2022). Resolutions Are Not the Vibe for 2022. .
Ordonez, L., Schweitzer, M., Galinsky, A., & Bazerman, M.. (2009). Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 09-083.
Persaud, R., & Bruggen, P. . (2022). Psychology Explains New Year Resolutions, Hits and Misses. Psychology Today.
Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. . (2017). Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long-Term Goals. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 43(2), 151–162. .
Zhu, Y., Zhang, B., Wang, Q., Li, W., & Cai, X. . (2018). The principle of least effort and Zipf distribution.. Journal Of Physics: Conference Series, 1113, 012007.

Its like I read this when I need it the most. I've gotten into a fitness journey of sorts a few months ago (Disclaimer: This is finally my longest and most sustainable attempt on such endeavor). And the points you've shared here definitely where what helped me stick to it. Small changes, it started with just choosing to take a short walk, then it became longer walks, then it became jogging and now my pace as a runner has improved! And on to the fact, that my mindset was a huge factor as well so that aligns with what you mentioned about identifying your "Why".

This is such a well articulated and insightful article. As someone who has struggled with maintaining a fitness routine my entire life, I can fully appreciate the desire to start fresh when the new year begins, however, ultimately January 1st is no different than any other day. The same challenges and obstacles exist regardless of the day. One of the tricks I use to hold myself accountable is to join a gym where I have to schedule a class reservation. If I cancel within 8 hours of my reservation, I am either charged for the lesson, or lose one of the sessions I purchased as a class-pack. At least half the time I force myself to go only because I don't want the penalty of missing the class! But I get the workout in, and always feel better for it. It's important to be mindful about what works for you as an individual. As lovely as it would be to have a universal instruction guide to successfully accomplish our goals, it really does come down to trial and error and getting to know ourselves. Thank you again for such a great article!

Oh wow, haha! I just posted now that I felt like this post resonated with me and I used my fitness journey as an example. I can definitely see how fitness is usually the challenging goals we set our eyes on. Great tips though! The idea on scheduling a class is a good one - I would agree that works too. I have a coach I pay more for guidance and well, accountability and it has helped me form a habit of doing it even on the days I don't want to (because that's when you need it the most).

I have always been a big fan of writing New Years goals and setting goals in all areas of my life to strive to be a better person. Reflecting back I can see that sometimes these goals are easily given up on in a month or 2, Example eating healthier. Ive found that it helps to write the goals out and put them in clear view as a daily reminder. So if these are healthy eating goals then I tape them to the fridge. If I want to improve on something in my work life then I tape the goals above my desk. This has really helped me to stay on track and be more accountable for my actions or lack of action!

I love this article. It hit so many points. I am somewhat going through this now. I went from a job with a work-life balance to a job with none. I find myself trying to spend more time with my family and friends. I want to help people and do memorable things.
I had to go back and rethink my why, set new goals, and remind myself to keep going. The part about goal setting and scheduling is related to me personally. Over the past few weeks, I have becon3 an early riser to get more things done.
I have enjoyed reading this. My biggest takeaway is to change my take on leisure time. The tasks that I would get done if I wasn't a TV watcher. Time to change it up. Thank you!

This was one of the best articles I've read this year. I always seem to want bigger goals than my last achievement and I never really figured out why. After reading this article, I want to spend more time figuring out why I want to achieve these goals.

Persistence is one of the most important traits for success. No matter how talented you are, you will not be successful if you give up. You need to have the ability to keep going even when things are tough.

I also enjoyed the author's advice on setting goals that are achievable and specific. I think this is something we all need to keep in mind when setting goals for ourselves. We should also be held accountable by others to help us achieve our goals.

I learned the hard way about persistence. As a perfectionist who has always wanted to get things right, I have finally learned that sometimes just doing something imperfectly several times has more results than doing something just once. Persistence over perfection usually is the best route.

Love this article! As someone who habitually starts their life over without the influence of the New Year, I 100% resonate with everything here. Over the years, I’ve learned that me wanting to manifest an entirely different life and a new me was just my brain’s way of letting me know that I wasn’t happy with who I was or my life. The hard-to-swallow truth, however, is that you can very much make those changes but it doesn’t really change how you feel about your self because the issue is much more complex than just hitting the gym everyday. It’s insecurities, low self-esteem, fear, and uncertainty amongst other demons that we all deal with on a daily.

As someone who sometimes still looks for ways to drastically change their life to avoid acknowledging change and reality it’s all about taking accountability and digging to understand those core issues, otherwise you’ll never be satisfied with yourself in life no matter the accomplishment. Thanks for such an insightful piece!!

Definitely agree with you on the demons, we all have them and we aren't always are going through. Makes me realize though as much as we advocate being kind to others, we also have to be kind to ourselves. It is an insightful piece, indeed!

You make excellent points about leisure time and the mind/body connection. This called me out in so many ways!

wow...talk about personal accountability. I didn't realize how much I was going to be able to get out of this article until I found myself saying "wait, I should write this down" for the 7th time. This was so insightful and prompted me to look at how I set goals as well as where I haven't been having success in said process.

My top three takeaways were:

"only enjoyment predicted long term persistence." (Which explains so much about why I can't seem to keep up with any goals that are ultimately tied to doing things that I hate.)

"Good intentions last a month on average." (Which makes so much sense of my struggle to prosper in some areas despite my intentions.)

and,

"try scheduling (personal goals) during times of the day when you have the least amount of competition from other tasks or responsibility." (I have become a morning riser specifically for this reason.)

The information I took from this article is truly valuable and absolutely has me looking at my own habits, thoughts, and beliefs surrounding goal setting. Thank you for that.

Finding the 'why' is the most critical step in determining my success. Also, I never make new years resolutions because of the pressure from others during that time. I've found better success when I can make changes quietly on my own.

@Lizzy Right on Lizzy.. I definitely have been there done that with New Years Resolutions and I finally accepted that you can man make changes any time of the year. Not that I hate the idea of New Years Resolutions though, sometimes it signifies a fresh start for others -- and if it helps them achieve their goals so be it.