What is something that everyone has but no one keeps? Their hair? Well, yes… but no!
The answer is new year’s resolutions.
It’s that time of the year—the time where everyone reflects on the past year, thinking of new ways they can flip the switch and improve a certain aspect of their life.
“New year, new me! On January 1st, I am going to start eating healthy, going to the gym, quitting smoking, getting ahold of my finances,” etc.
Fast forward to January 31, and the gyms are desolate, the cabinets are stacked with Twinkies and Ho Hos, and you missed a week of tracking your spending, so your finances are a lost cause. Another new year, another failed resolution.
Don’t feel bad, though! A whopping 92% of all New Years Resolutions fail! Why is this the case? Why is January the world’s biggest graveyard of self-made promises?
It’s because the whole concept of a new year’s resolution is completely bogus and against any sort of human psychology. In this article, I am going to explain why these new year’s resolutions make zero sense and what you should do instead. I use the example of “living a healthier lifestyle.”
I use this example because this was my new year’s resolution back in 2011. And it did not work.
So in 2012, I had the same resolution, but took a different approach—to slowly work to change one habit at a time to improve my health. First, it was exercising five days a week. Once I developed that habit, I moved onto small improvements in my eating. Six years later of continuous improvement, I can make a strong case that my current lifestyle is healthier than at least 90 percent of anyone else in my age group, and I feel great!
4 Reasons Your New Year’s Resolutions Will Crash and Burn
1. You’re choosing an arbitrary day to enact a big change.
Have you ever woken up on the morning of January 1st and thought, “Wow! It feels like next year! I am a new person!” I bet you haven’t. In fact, I bet your first thoughts when you roll out of bed on January 1st are, “What the heck happened last night?” Don’t worry, I was there.
Then, for at least the month of January, you will continue to write last year’s date more often than not. Don’t worry; I do this, too! I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. My point is that, the whole “new year” concept is easily forgotten subconsciously.
While the new year seems like a good time to reset for everyone, truthfully, your body can’t tell the difference. Every day is a reset. If you recognize an area of improvement in your life, you can start making changes immediately rather than waiting until January 1st. So rather than improving bad habits an average of 80 times in your lifetime, you can improve an average of almost 30,000.
2. You’ve already set yourself up for failure.
How can one go from stuffing themselves with Christmas ham, apple pie, and copious amounts of alcohol on December 31st to a purely healthy diet with consistent exercise on January 1st?
The answer is you can’t—or, at least, it’s extremely likely that you can’t.
This is setting yourself up for failure. What do you want to do the morning after a night of heavy drinking (i.e. new year’s eve)? I’m sure it’s not wake up early, eat a few pieces of avocado toast, and hit the gym that’s probably closed. You are likely going to eat a big, greasy breakfast and veg out to recover from the night before. So it’s day one, and you have already failed at your new year’s resolution.
Unfortunately, this one failure cripples you before you start. Psychologically, once someone fails, there is a higher probability of the goal becoming a lost cause. They become discouraged and believe the goal cannot be achieved, which makes it harder to see any sort of results.
3. You’re trying to do too much all at once.
Humans are creatures of habit. Your life is simply a compilation of habits strung together. In other words, to improve your lifestyle, you need to change one single habit. Changing habits takes much more than a split second between 11:59 p.m. on December 31st and midnight on January 1st. If this was all it took, the world would be free of smokers, gamblers, alcoholics, and drug addicts. Unfortunately, it is not.
Back to our healthy lifestyle example. Let’s say you go from not exercise regularly to one morning (January 1st) deciding that you are going to exercise rigorously 5 days per week, every week.
You may be able to get up and do this for one or two weeks. However, the excitement of your new activity will wear off. Before you know it, it will be too cold or too dark or too “insert excuse here” to continue exercising. This usually happens before the habit is formed, and you’re back to square one trying again next year.
Related: The Real Reason We Fail at Our New Year’s Resolutions
4. Your goals aren’t specific or actionable.
According to a January 2017 poll, the most common new year’s resolutions were:
- Exercise more
- Lose weight
- Eat more healthily
Every single one of these is not specific and therefore impossible to attain. If there is no metric or timeframe to measure your results, how do you know whether you achieved it or failed?
“Exercise more”?! Please tell me how you are going to complete this? Are you going to do one push-up per day? Or are you going to exercise 5-6 days per week? One end of the spectrum is ineffective, while the other is not immediately sustainable.
I would argue that most people fall towards the more aggressive end of that spectrum on January 1st. The problem here is that the first week they fail at this goal, they get down on themselves, lose confidence, admit they can’t do it, and then stop. So again, back to square one.
A Different Approach
Now that you see a few of the many flaws of new year’s resolutions, let me guide you through a different approach. It’s quite simple. In fact, you may have heard of it. It’s called goal setting.
Some of you may have heard of the acronym “SMART” goals. The SMART standing for:
Focus on achieving just one of these SMART goals at a time. When you focus on just one thing, your odds of achieving it increase exponentially.
Rather than improving yourself all at once at the start of the year, let’s break down the way you want to improve into four smaller, more achievable SMART goals. This will put you in a position to achieve one of your goals every three months, and by the end of the year, you will have changed your habits and kept your new year’s resolution.
Your new year’s resolution is “live a healthier lifestyle.” There are two main aspects that most people view as living a healthier lifestyle: eating better and exercising. These will be the first two goals you set for the first half of next year. Studies show that 80% of your health comes from what you eat, so we will start there as your first quarter’s goal. Additionally, you will avoid the busy gym season.
The first step is to make this “eating healthier” a SMART goal and focus on just changing one aspect of your diet. Let’s change it to “I will eat zero added sugar by March 31st.”
Going from eating loads Christmas cookies to zero sweets is very tough to achieve. So let’s make it easier by breaking this goal down by the week. The week one goal is to eat zero added sugar for one day of the week. After each week, increase the number of days per week you go without added sugar. So week two will involve two days of a sugar-free diet, week three you’ll aim for three days, etc.
Each successive week will be a little bit more of a challenge. As you complete these challenges, you will stay motivated and even look forward to the following week’s challenge. By week seven (about halfway through the quarter), you will have weaned off of sugar completely. Then it’s all about sustaining it. For the remaining half of the quarter (about six weeks), be sure to eat zero added sugar, and eventually, you will not even find the Twinkies and Ho Hos in your cabinet appetizing.
Once you have changed your habit of consuming sugar, you can move on to the next way you plan to improve your health. Perhaps it’s cutting another element out of your diet. Or maybe it’s hitting the gym 5-6 days per week. Whatever it may be, take the approach outlined above, and your chance of keeping your resolutions is much better.
I hope that you can see that conventional new year’s resolutions are wildly ineffective, and if you truly want to make a change, you should be a bit more strategic. Break your general new year’s resolution into a series of habit-changing SMART goals that you can for sure achieve one quarter at a time. By the end of the year, you will be surprised. You will have actually kept your new year’s resolution with relative ease!
If you continue this strategy, you will become good at being self-disciplined and will be able to change your habits more frequently. In other words, you can shorten the three-month timeframe mentioned above for each goal you achieve.
You can apply this SMART strategy to anything. It can be health-related, personal finance-related, or even relationship-related. In fact, I have significantly improved all of these aspects of my life through this strategy.
Trust me! This strategy of actually achieving your new year’s resolution (or goals) is much more effective than telling everyone you are going to “live healthier” or “eat better.”
What are your resolutions this year? What’s your action plan to achieve them?