Successful New Years Resolutions: Do's and Dont's

It's too easy to fall short. But it doesn't have to be that way.
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December 9, 2021
Fireworks celebrating New Years

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“81% of people slip up on their New Year resolutions. Most are abandoned by mid-January.” — a study by Scranton University

There must be a problem here, right?

What is a New Years resolution? What's the key to a successful one?

New Years resolutions are goals. Fundamentally any goal will require time and effort to achieve. This sounds a lot easier said than done. You are already using all 24 hours in your day in some way or another, so reallocating time for a new goal can be a real challenge.

One well-known goal planning framework is SMART goals, an important tool to understand.

But it’s not necessarily always the answer. Let's dig a little deeper into what often goes wrong...

Why New Years Resolutions fail...

Reason #1: you forgot them

Without looking at your notes or your journal, ask yourself right now — what were your New Years Resolutions last year? Chances are you probably don’t remember, and that probably comes down to not checking them enough. Try to keep track of your goals in a prominent, obvious place where you will see them all the time. This could be above your to-do list, sticky notes on your laptop or desk, a whiteboard etc…

Reason #2: you didn’t plan out your goal properly

My favourite quote from Nir Eyal’s Indistractable is “You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from.” In other words, if you don’t plan for ‘traction’, you’ve set yourself up to not get anywhere before you’ve even started. Nir suggests to plan out inputs rather than outputs (ie. time rather number of tasks), which is a technique called timeboxing. Focusing too much on the end goal can detract and even cause you to procrastinate from just putting in the required time and effort.

Reason #3: for some reason you still didn’t end up doing it

Even if you remember your goals and you plan them well, there could be a whole host of other factors holding you back.

i. Distractions

We get distracted more than we think. It’s not just our phone — anything from our colleagues to clutter on your desk can be a distraction.

ii. Procrastination

Even if there are no external stimuli to distract you, we can get distracted in our own thoughts. This is a tricky one and takes time to master — but meditation-like practices can help us analyse and separate our productive thoughts from our counter-productive thoughts.

iii. Irrational attention

Our modern brains are programmed to like quick, easy rewards. Big goals often seem daunting and as a result are hard to work towards sustainably. This leads us to search for any kind of quick reward such as social media or a small task instead. Focus on the small steps!

iv. Dissatisfaction

Maybe you're just not getting enough motivation from what you’re doing. In this situation you have two options: either make a concrete change or a mental one. Is this goal you’re working towards something you really want? If not, why are you doing it? If it's not truly necessary and you're not motivated by it, this is a great exercise in saying 'no'.

If however, what you’re working on is just a necessary evil, you can change the way you perceive your goal and make it fun. Find washing the dishes boring? Make it a race, or challenge yourself in some creative way.

Quick summary

When you make your New Years Resolutions think about:

  • Making your goals prominent
  • Base your goals on clear, realistic inputs (not outputs)
  • Split up your big goal into smaller steps
  • Make sure your goals really motivate you

List of good New Year Resolution examples

Here's some inspiration for you, hope you find these useful!

1. Want to be more fit?

Here's a template: I will do ________ every week with the goal of losing ______ kg's each month.

2. Want to read more books this year?

Here's a template: I will read for ________ mins every day with the goal of finishing ______ book(s) every month.

3. Want to start a side-business?

Here's a template: I will spend ________ mins every weekday working on ____________.

4. Want to stop drinking as much?

Here's a template: I will drink a maximum of ________ standard drinks per day, with 1 exception day per month when I will allow ______ standard drinks.

Good luck :)

Now you're more aware of how to succeed with your New Years Resolutions and it's simply time to try it out for yourself.

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