A Guide to Making Realistic New Year’s Resolutions
Can you believe that 2021 is already over? It has been a full and busy year, but now, we’re excited to see what 2022 has in store! However, before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, it’s time to partake in one of the world’s oldest traditions – making New Year’s Resolutions.
The tradition of New Year’s resolutions goes back at least 4000 years (to ancient Babylon) and usually involves a time of reflection during which we choose a goal we wish to accomplish within the next year. Unfortunately, failing to achieve our resolutions is almost as traditional as making them.
We are so bad at keeping resolutions that many joke that they’re made to be broken! But, if we can help it, this is going to be the year your resolutions succeed!
What’s Wrong with My Resolution?
Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution that you’ve been able to stick to? Often times our resolutions involve “losing weight,” “spending less time online,” “getting rich,” or other admirable desires. Realistically, though, most of us give up on them after a few weeks. In fact, at least half of resolutions fail every year!
So, with more than half of us failing, how do others succeed – what is their secret?
Chances are, if you’re having trouble sticking to your resolution it results from it not being quite the right fit for you. Sure, it’s a goal you want to achieve, but it might also be:
- More influenced by the opinions of friends, family, society norms, etc., instead of coming from your own personal drive
- Too vague (like “I want to lose weight” vs “I want to lose 5 lbs.”)
- Thought out half-heartedly, without a real plan
If any of these are the case, it’s time to take a closer look at your resolution.
How to Make a Resolution Fit You
Once you’ve chosen a resolution you really want to achieve, your best chance at success is customizing it specifically for you. Everyone wants to be healthy, fit, famous, etc., but if you want to be successful, you have to break it down further – you need a SMART resolution.
SMART is an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It applies to anything that utilizes goalsetting, from business management to fitness and more. Since your New Year’s Resolution is a personal goal, making it SMART is straightforward.
SPECIFIC – You can’t be vague with your resolution. No more “lose weight,” or “get rich” resolutions. Your goal should be clearly defined down to smallest detail.
SO, rather than saying:
- “I want to lose weight.” Try, “I want to lose 15 lbs. by June.”
- “I want to learn a language.” Try, “I’m going to spend 15 minutes every day learning French.”
- “I want to read more.” Try, “I will read at least 5 (insert your own number) pages of a book each day.”
MEASURABLE – Lay out a plan for reaching your goal and then find a way to track your progress and keep a record of your success. It’s easier to stay motivated when you can see not just where you’ve been, but how far you come.
Tracking progress may be easier for some resolutions than others, so here are a few suggestions using the three examples above:
- Keep a journal that tracks regular weigh-ins and/or body measurements.
Take pictures weekly and keep them in an album so you can see your progress.
Reward yourself for successful steps, but don’t make them things that undermine your resolution (like foods that put weight on).
- Use a language-learning app that keeps track of your day streak.
Use a calendar to write down a favorite new word each day so you can track how many new words you’ve learned.
- Find a place to stack the books you plan on reading for the year and a place to stack them when you finish a book.Make a checklist that you can hang up in a very visible area and check off each book as you finish it.
ACHIEVABLE – Make resolutions you can achieve. If you go too big and end up failing, you’ll likely end up frustrated, disappointed, or discouraged. After achieving your initial goal, you can always set another.
Don’t expect to have six-pack abs after working out for a month or become fluent in 5 languages by June. Know your limits and make sure your resolution is something you can definitely accomplish with planning and effort.
RELEVANT – This is arguably the most important quality of your resolution – it MUST be something YOU want. Don’t set goals because “mom says” or “everyone else is doing it.” Doing something that really matters to you increases the likelihood that you’ll see it through.
To test whether or not your resolution matters to you, simply ask yourself, “Why do I want this?” And keep asking “Why?” until you get to the heart of it. If that answer is something that really matters to you, then you know you’ve made a good resolution.
TIME-BOUND – Just like making your resolution something you can realistically achieve, a practical timeframe is also important.
Let’s use the example resolution of losing 15 lbs. by June. This resolution provides about 5 months to lose 15 lbs. Your timeline would be to lose 3 lbs. each month – which is reasonable, doable, and healthy.
Alternatively, if your goal is to lose 15 lbs. in one month – your timeline would need to be losing 4 lbs. each week. And while that may be achievable, it's not really healthy or safe, thus making it unrealistic.
Ultimately, when it comes to making your New Year’s resolution, try to find something you really want to do and can visualize yourself completing. With a SMART resolution, if you have a plan and the will to make it happen, you’ll find you can be successful in seeing it through to completion. So, here’s to success!!!
 Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.