As we welcome another New Year, it will be a time many people will reflect on their life and what they have done over the past year, deciding how they can change it for the better going forward.
New Year’s resolutions are the perfect opportunity to sit down and write a list of all the things that could potentially change your life forever.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room – the notorious reputation that New Year’s resolutions are victim to a dramatic rate of failure.
According to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, just 8% of people achieve their New Year Resolutions.
From my own empirical evidence alone, I observe the same trend in my gym every year, where attendance peaks to an unbearable high in January, to a sudden drop in February, never to return to such levels of popularity again for the rest of the year.
Some self-improvement gurus are quite condescending of New Year resolutions and the person who sets them for this reason, but it isn’t that the person who fails to stick to the resolution is a loser who can’t complete anything. It’s just that they’ve failed to apply any structure to make them realistic to achieve.
This post shares some advice to help you be more effective in changing your life for the better, so by the time next year comes, you’ll be able to reflect back on the resolution you’ve set as progress in your life fulfillment.
Turn it into goals
A resolution in it’s nature sounds like a goal. But in reality goals are structured, whereas resolutions are nothing but a wish, a desire, a bucket list item, which maybe ticked off through pure circumstance.
It’s no wonder most resolutions fail. Therefore, the first step is to turn these into goals.
For help setting your first goals, check out How To Set Your First Goals.
Make it SMART
Objectives can be vague, have no sense of measuring progress, aren’t based on reality, and don’t have a period of time to establish success. The solution is to ensure whatever you set is made SMART:
S – Specific: allows you to drill down into what you want the goal to achieve.
M – Measurable: makes your goal measurable by applying a metric or tangible evidence to demonstrate it’s been achieved.
A – Achievable: assesses whether your goal is something you can actually reach.
R – Realistic: keeps your goals grounded in reality.
T – Time-based: Sets a date ideally when the goal should be complete (note: the purpose of the date is to drive you to achieve your goal, rather than being a parameter for success or failure.)
On making it realistic…
New Year’s resolutions often aren’t realistic because people set these because they feel obliged to do something “better” for their life, when in reality their heart isn’t into achieving the goal.
If you vow to quit smoking, alcohol, or decide to join the gym, but don’t really want to, then the resolution isn’t realistic to achieve – it needs full buy-in from yourself to be a success.
Avoid searching for “New Year Resolution ideas” because if you have to look to Google for inspiration, you can’t want it that bad!
Set in reflection periods
To keep yourself accountable you need to set in periods of reflection, then if you’ve had a bad week, you can look at what went wrong, learn your lessons and agree a new approach to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Make sure to take time each week to reflect how you are getting on, and allocate an indepth sessions every quarter to look at your progress and (maybe) set your next goals.
What to do if your goals are failing
What you need to do when you realise you’re failing your goals is simple. It’s an approach I call Reflect – Recalibrate – Restart.
Reflect: Take a step back and look at the approach you are taking.
Recalibrate: Look at what is going wrong, and what you can learn from these mistakes, and agree a new approach.
Restart: Don’t let the fear of failure paralyse you into inaction, get back to working on your goals.
Remember: Achievement of goals isn’t an easy process – and that’s the point of a good goal. If you are not setting something to stretch you, then you’re just working off a task list, and need to get better at setting goals which are rewarding to achieve.
For further information on managing this check out the post How To Turn Failing Goals Around
Make it a habit
Have you ever noticed when you start a new interest it seems much harder to find the motivation? Yet after a while it becomes so routine you no longer need to think about doing it. That is because these habits are triggered by the continued repetition of time.
Author of Atomic Habits James Clear calls this a habit cue – a trigger that can enable a habit to stick. These cues are triggered in five different ways (which you can find more about in detail in the post The 5 Triggers That Make New Habits Stick).
Appreciating these cues are useful to enable you to build good habits, but also identify the symptoms that cause you to indulge in bad habits, and take mitigating actions to avoid.
Therefore, if you want to achieve your resolution you need to make sure you turn it into a habit.
How to build a habit that lasts
Further, James Clear notes motivation comes after starting a new behaviour, not before. Therefore, when you set your resolution make sure it becomes part of your regular routine, continued persistence will turn this into a habit, where it no longer comes about psyching yourself up to do it, you just do.
Going back to cue’s, these can be utilised to trigger you into a specific action. For example, to ensure I kept working out I would get up at 6am when my alarm woke me up. By doing this it became habit to drag myself out of bed, throw on gym clothes and head to the gym. Best of all I avoided the “I don’t feel like it…” sensation.
I don’t feel like…
The biggest barrier to growth is succumbing to your “I don’t feel like…” feelings.
“I don’t feel like going to the gym”
“I don’t feel like writing”
“I don’t feel like maintaining my sobriety”
“I don’t feel like trying”
We all have those days, if you can push through and ignore those feelings, or tag it to a cue where you are at your most motivated, you’ll find those are the days you are making the biggest progress.
The reason a lot of resolutioners disappear from the gym by February, is that they started with good intent – to get up early, go five times a week and do a marathon session.
But that becomes too much too soon – they start getting bored looking at themselves on the treadmill, and start thinking of all the easier things they’d much rather do, so they quit.
It’s better to find something manageable that works for you, a schedule of three times a week, for thirty minutes at a suitable time, with a workout that excites you. This approach beats the hell out of the over enthusiastic new year, new me attitude every time.
My favourite approach to starting small is the 10-minute rule, whatever you are trying to do, if you don’t feel motivated, set a timer for ten minutes and work on the activity. If you find you are struggling to progress, give yourself permission to stop, and try again another day – at least you’ve tried.
Make everything towards your resolution goal as generic, and routine as possible. When you have too many decisions to make, this impacts your motivation, and the possibility to even try.
This is something bodybuilders understand when they prepare healthy meals in bulk, enabling them to avoid making bad decisions on what to eat, or measuring out excessive portion sizes.
Decision making requires motivation, and we only have so much of that in day, so it’s important if you can remove as many small unnecessary decisions out of your day, so you can apply the energy to your goals.
The five rules to New Year’s Resolution Success
When you want to make a change, this requires determination, your ability to show up, day-in, day out, not excuses.
Your New Year resolution is about changing something about you, and it can only be achieved when your determination to change, outweighs your desire for everything to stay the same.
Have a vision
When you set your resolution, establish what is your ‘why.’ If you are focused more on ‘What’ I need to do or ‘How’ I need to do it, you will fail.
What is your reason for wanting to do this? To be healthier? Set a better example for your children? For your mental health? When you understand your ‘why’, you will be driven to keep working towards this vision.
Have a routine
Don’t change what you are doing based on whims or fads – this impacts your end results.
A good routine is something you can follow every week – it’s better to do things in small doses and build up to maintain the habit, than going too much, too soon, otherwise you’ll fail faster, trying to keep up with something that is unsustainable to you.
Be persistent/have consistency
Don’t skip out on any tasks that will help you achieve your resolution, because you figure “once won’t hurt”, this will start to become a habit and impact your results.
The solution to success is simple – repeat what you are doing for a prolonged period of time. Keeping that consistent approach will give you a clear measure to your improvement.
Make sure to schedule in regular reflection periods – look at your progress on a weekly basis, and schedule more in-depth reviews on a quarterly basis.
If things aren’t working out, take a moment to think what isn’t working out and recalibrate yourself, with a new approach.
Then once achieved, ensure not to procrastinate on your next approach and restart taking into account you have learned from your errors.
I encourage you when setting resolutions to take a structured approach – make sure you set the resolutions as SMART goals, so you have something defined, realistic and measurable.
It’s easy to get distracted, go off track or just get lazy, which is why regular reflection is important to ensure you can measure what you have achieved, and get the other things you’ve not done well with back on track.
By this continue persistence you will build up habits, just remember to start small so you can manage your goals and not burn yourself out early with over enthusiasm.
Further, by remembering the five rules to new year resolution success you will find your desired aspiration is sustainable throughout the whole year!
Wishing you the best in your success.
James @Perfect Manifesto
3 thoughts on “How To Set New Year Resolutions (You Can Stick To)”
great advice James. I haven’t heard of the three R’s, but they make a lot of sense to help people get back on track…
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Thanks Jim, you won’t have heard of the 3 R’s because they are a concept I made up for this post! If they’ve caught on I’ll use again 😅
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it’s very clever and easy to remember…
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