I get teased for my obsession with New Year’s resolutions every year. I have forsaken TV in all forms for a year. Resolved to read 24 books a year, for the rest of my life. Given up buying clothing for a year —underwear and socks included. With countless others too.
From the little ones surrounding drinking water or flossing, to the big ones around money and plastic. I take New Year’s resolutions very seriously and I see a great deal of value in them.
Maybe I’ve had success because I have generally stayed away from resolutions around diet or exercise, but success I have had. And to the nay-sayers who believe that New Year’s resolutions are dumb and that if you want to make a change you should start today, not January 1st, I say: If this helps some people reflect on their life or their year and make progress, this is a good thing.
It’s a beautiful tradition and I look forward to it every year.
So, in the vast wisdom of my twenty-five years, as a New Year’s Resolution ambassador and savant, let me tell you how to make a resolution and keep it.
First, the naysayers have something right: if you want to make a change, you should start today. However, New Year’s resolutionaries have something for you: a date. Dates are important. I’ve done an embarrassing amount of googling over the years on goal-setting and keeping, habit-breaking and forming. You need a beginning, an acknowledged date, and a turning point. You can’t keep track of a resolution or its success without one. So yes, while November third or June 19th could be your “January 1st,” a greater chance of success comes when you mark the date.
Resolutionaries also have something else you need: a time period. Goals need to be bounded. They need an end, or at least checkpoints. Goals and resolutions are more successful when they are temporal. This does not mean that you can’t use New Year’s resolutions to make genuine lifestyle change. You can. But you need to regularly check-in with yourself, measure success, and adjust. When goals aren’t bounded they are easily forgotten because you have no awareness of time passing. They are also easily broken because the finish line is never in sight. Whether it’s 21 days, 3 months, or the traditional year, create a finish line.
However, there is something that New Year’s resolutionaries generally lack: specificity. This lack of specificity begets our greatest chance at failure. This is the error that foreshadows the ever so notorious resolutionaries that fail in the first month, even the first week. If you want to make a resolution and keep it, you need to be specific. Resolving to eat healthier is a hard goal to keep. It’s not only hard to succeed at, it’s hard to fail at, because there is nothing suggesting what eating healthier means. We need quantifiers. Don’t resolve to eat healthier. Resolve to eat one serving of fruits and vegetables with every meal. Don’t resolve to work out more. Resolve to work out for one our on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning. You can’t hold yourself accountable if your resolution doesn’t tell you how to succeed or fail.
I mentioned earlier a resolution I made in 2017: to read 24 books a year. This is the one I've been teased and questioned about most. I wanted to make a genuine lifestyle change to read more. Not for a year but forever. People question whether reading should be treated like this, quantified like this. But with experience I’ve realized: if you have a huge goal, you have to make small steps to achieve it. And I’ve had a lot of success with this goal. I haven’t failed at it since. Because I gave myself a date: to have 24 books finished by December 31st. Because my goal has a time period, a finish line not only at the end of each year but temporal markers at the end of each month. Have I finished two books this month? Because I was specific, I’m able to keep myself accountable and measure my success.
Holidays are meant to celebrate, remind, and encourage us towards good things. Valentine’s exists to celebrate love. Christmas is there to remind us to share and be good. And New Year’s encourages us to self-reflect and keep growing. It’s a tradition worth participating in.
How can YOU get involved? Simple!
Step #1: Make a resolution. Give that resolution a start date, a time period, and a good bit of specificity.
Step #2: Share that resolution with friends, family, and co-workers. Heck, share it with us in the comments below. The more people you have holding you accountable, the better chance you have at succeeding.
Step #3: Reward yourself. If you carry out your goal for the whole month, maybe let yourself go to that cool restaurant you've always wanted to. Perhaps there are a pair of sunglasses you want. Don't let yourself have them till you reach your goal. Even if you made only a fraction of the progress you aimed for, you made progress and that's worth celebrating.