December 30, 2013
Each year about half the US population make their “New Year’s Resolutions.” But few (around 8%) successfully achieve those resolutions. That leaves quite a few people either disappointed in themselves or exhibiting effectiveness in making excuses (or both). I don’t think there is anything wrong with the reason for making resolutions: it is identifying an area in need of improvement and making an effort to achieve that improvement. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology identified the top 10 resolutions:
- Lose Weight
- Getting Organized
- Spend Less, Save More
- Enjoy Life to the Fullest
- Staying Fit and Healthy
- Learn Something Exciting
- Quit Smoking
- Help Others in Their Dreams
- Fall in Love
- Spend More Time with Family
All of these appear to be positive. However, there are some significant flaws.
First, the resolutions are often very vague, lacking in definition. Does losing weight mean 10 pounds or 100? How do you measure “getting organized”? When using words like “more” or “less,” when do you identify that you’ve made enough of a difference to be able to check the goal off the list? Setting a defined measure makes it much easier to see if progress is being made and provides a clear end-point.
Second, goals can be unrealistic. Falling in love may be quite difficult for one person to achieve, considering that a healthy relationships requires two committed members (at least if you want more than infatuation). “Helping others in their dreams” sounds quite noble, but you can’t expect someone to walk up to you, express a (feasible) dream, tell you how you can help, and achieve that dream in one year. Instead, one must start with bite-sized pieces. Perhaps you can decide to volunteer at a center for youth-at-risk. Rather than “staying fit,” being realistic might be setting a specific number of hours to exercise, or choosing a sport to learn.
Third, many resolutions are made without a plan. There is no way to get from point A to point Z without the intermediary steps. A key one would be identifying ways to maintain motivation, such as having a friend to keep you accountable for exercising, or planning rewards when reaching smaller goals along the way. Even identifying why you want to reach this goal and putting up reminders of that in a very visible places can help increase motivation.
Finally, a whole year is a relatively long time-frame for resolutions. Yes, long-term vision is valuable and setting goals for a year can be helpful. But only evaluating progress and identifying needed changes once a year is simply not effective. What would happen if we set New Month’s Resolutions? Or even New Week’s Resolutions? Of those who made annual resolutions, 75% were able to maintain it through the first week, so it seems much more effective. Taking a few minutes at the end of each week to evaluate progress from the last week and identify bite-sized goals for the next one can produce results. Even if you don’t successfully meet the last resolution, you wouldn’t have to wait months to start over!
If you are a writer, deciding to spend an hour writing each day may be a much more attainable goal than resolving to have three new books on the market this year. I’ve known people who have participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and effectively produced a book at least 50,000 words long. They have 1) a defined end point in both time and results, 2) a goal that is definitely reachable, as evidenced by the thousand others who are all motivating each other, 3) specific markers along the way, and 4) an intermediate time-frame. Fiction might not be your genre, and this may not be a year when you can dedicate that much time or produce that many words, but the principles can hold fast on a smaller scale for a wide variety of intentions.
What about you? Are there bigger goals that you can clarify and turn into short-term steps?