About New Year’s Resolutions (2018 Update)
With 2018 here, you’ll hear people say “new year, new me” in multiple occasions. This points to resolutions they’re making to bring about some major changes in their lives; things like eating healthier, paying off debt or traveling more. Whether or not we believe in resolutions, this time of the year inspires us all to reflect and figure out ways to improve.
While there’s nothing wrong with setting goals, the thought process that goes into this saying does a disservice in that it doesn’t acknowledge the progress made previously. You don’t become a new person overnight. Your story carries over to the new year. Only this time, you’re wiser and you’re working to bring to life a better version of yourself.
So if I could rephrase, I would change it so that it reflects what actually happens. I would say, “New year, same me but better.”
For the new year, I’d like to invite you to think about goal-setting differently.
In order to reach a goal, you must first develop the habit that will guide you to the right actions. As such, building on your previous work and already existing habits are more effective ways to achieve your end result. What has worked well? What needs to be changed? Look at the past for insight into what you can improve.
In Psychology Today, a behavioral psychologist tells us the three things we must do to create a new habit:
- You MUST pick a small action. “Get more exercise” is not small. “Eat healthier” is not small. This is a big reason why new year’s resolutions don’t work. For example, instead of “Get more exercise,” choose “Walk 1/3 more than I usually do” or “Take the stairs each morning to get to my office, not the elevator.”
- You MUST attach the new action to a previous habit. Figure out a habit you already have that is well established, for example, if you already go for a brisk walk three times a week, then adding on 10 more minutes to the existing walk connects the new habit to an existing one. The existing habit “Go for walk” now becomes the “cue” for the new habit: “Walk 10 more minutes.” Your new “stimulus-response” is Go For Walk (Stimulus) followed by “Add 10 minutes.”
- You MUST make the new action EASY to do for at least the first week. Because you are trying to establish a conditioned response, you need to practice the new habit from the existing stimulus 3 to 7 times before it will “stick” on its own.
The new year doesn’t have to bring about new goals. You can build on what you’ve already started and refine it.
Check In Regularly
Don’t wait for January or December to set or revisit your goals. If you make a plan and take action, you will receive feedback at every step along the way. Create the habit of reviewing your goals regularly. This will help you stay on the right track.
Focus On Progress
The truth is, those lofty goals we typically set at the beginning of each year can take more than 365 days to come to fruition. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on them.
When it comes to reaching your goals, think about your progress. Don’t worry if it’s taking longer than you thought. Did you learn new things? Did you get closer to the big picture? It’s not a zero sum game. Every step you take counts and, if you learn to track your actions and implement the feedback, you will get there faster.