A 1988 research study by researchers at the University of Scranton showed only 19% of people who made New Year’s resolutions stuck to their goals.
A 2007 University of Bristol study by professor Richard Weisman showed a 12% success rate in achieving New year’s goals.
More recently, a 2018 study showed only 4% of respondents stuck to all their goals.
Here are my deductions from the above statistics:
- Research techniques are getting better and more accurate
- We are responding with more honesty to surveys as time progresses
- We’re getting lazier and spineless by the day
It is no wonder mainstream media runs articles headlined ‘Don’t set new year’s resolutions’ in December. In doing so, they’re hoping to save us from the inevitable disappointment that’ll ensue.
I’m here to tell you to disbelieve their disbelief. I’m here to argue the counter-point. As an ardent supporter of New Year’s resolutions, I hope to convince you these resolutions can be powerful - if done right.
Are you kidding? It’s October
Wonder why this crazy talk about New Year’s resolutions in October? If Costco is allowed to put up Christmas decorations in August, then, surely, I’m entitled to discuss New Year’s resolutions now?
That’s right. If you have time to plan for endless desserts and wine for the next three months, then now is also the time to prep for the salad days, come January.
Kidding aside, you need to do the groundwork and clear the soil out now to plant later. That is if you hope to land in the 4% of successful resolution-makers. In this article, you'll find how you need to prep to make New Year’s resolutions that stick.
Why even bother with resolutions?
Ah, yes! Good question. Let me use an accounting analogy. Snore Alert!
Accounting standards require manufacturing firms to produce a balance sheet that typically splits their assets into 3 account groups:
- Raw materials
- Work in progress
- Finished goods
These are fairly self-explanatory.
Raw materials are simply the materials/resources you need to create something. Finished good is the end product you make. Since the balance sheet is a point in time snapshot, anything that is in the process of being made but isn’t quite finished is ‘work in progress’.
Why the Accounting 101 lesson?
If we draw up a balance sheet for each of our lives, we’ll find some raw materials and a few finished goods. However, the largest portion of assets we carry are ‘work in progress’. Or to define precisely, 'work abandoned and not quite in progress’.
The whole point of life is not to waste the abundant raw materials we are given. Setting goals and making resolutions help us move from work in progress to finished product.
I’ve elaborated on the need for personal growth before. In a nutshell, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. You have to agree with me - that would be a waste.
Is making New Year’s resolutions the only way to personal growth? Of course not, but resolutions are a great opportunity to take stock, level set, and redefine where we’re headed.
Setting off without an end in sight is like jumping into a car and driving randomly. It may be exciting for a while but ultimately, you’ll burn up all your fuel but have nothing to show for it.
So why do goal setting missions, especially New Year’s resolutions fail?
Reasons resolutions fail
There are many reasons New Year’s resolutions fail, but here are a few key ones that are bound to trip you up:
- Trying to change too much too soon
- Relying on magical superpowers that you don’t already possess
- Non-existent (or inadequate) planning
Announcing loudly that you’ll climb Machu Picchu at a boozy New Year’s Eve party to one-up your drunk neighbor’s decision to summit Yosemite’s Half Dome is not a resolution. It’s a comedy. Especially when you don’t even know what country Machu Picchu is in. Or your best hike to date has been going up the stairs in your house.
You need to spend some time planning out what change you’d like in yourself. And have that plan be grounded in reality.
Resolving to just eat cucumbers after a month of holiday gluttony isn’t going to get you very far. Motivation alone is not enough.
Here are some steps on how to plan for your New Year’s resolutions.
1. Discover the inspiration for your resolutions
First, find areas in your life you are inclined to make some progress in. These changes have to be ones YOU truly want, not something others think may be good for you.
Most wellness-related New Year’s resolutions fail for this reason.
You will not shake off your daily dessert-after-dinner habit just because someone says it isn’t good for you. You only have a chance of dropping the habit if you are whole-heartedly convinced it isn’t good for you.
Don’t let others make your resolutions. If you do, you’ll just end up surreptitiously raiding the refrigerator when the family has gone to sleep. Believe me, that’s a lot of work.
2. Catchphrase your resolutions
I find this works very well. Come up with a simple yet catchy phrase that describes the changes you’d like in the coming year.
Companies write mission statements. These mission statements are essentially summary guidelines that dictate the values the company operates under (ostensibly). In theory, every decision the company makes should be in congruence with this mission statement.
Apple’s mission statement contains the words “bringing the best user experience to customers”. Their philosophy is to make the back-end code complex but the user experiences simpler. That’s why you find their products fairly intuitive.
Before making New Year’s resolutions, adopt this (mission-statement-writing) corporate principle to write your vision or value statement for the year.
For instance, if you’re trying to save more money in the new year, a phrase such as ‘Simple living, high thinking’ is a great one. This phrase will serve to remind you of the direction you want to go to.
In summer when you’re confronted with a can’t-miss-shoe-sale and can’t make a decision, your catchphrase can decide for you. ‘No need for shoes, save $50 instead’.
When you cannot trust yourself to make the right decisions, your catchphrase can step in and make those decisions for you.
It’s not easy coming up with this catchphrase. It requires thought and commitment. Hence, the October start!
This phrase will serve as a constant reminder throughout the year for all your actions and will help you make your New Year’s resolutions stick. Hang it around your neck if you need to. Or tattoo it on your arm (just kidding).
3. Understand the give-and-take of resolutions
This is probably the most important aspect of making resolutions. The concept is simple – to get something, you have to give up something else.
Find out what you’re willing to sacrifice. Simple economic theory says the lower the value of the item being traded in for a higher value purchase, the better off you’ll be.
Trading in a flip-phone to get the latest model smartphone is a no-brainer. Trading in last year’s model to get a similar-featured model is dumb. (Sorry to the long line of folks outside the Apple store on release day, especially the ones that showed up last year and the year before that)!
Find out what your flip-phone habits are – those should be the easiest ones to give up.
If you currently spend 5 hours a day watching mind-numbing television, then giving some of that up to go out for a walk is reasonable. However, if you are working a second job and rarely have time, then don’t resolve to take a leisurely stroll for an hour daily. You’re simply setting yourself up for failure.
Acknowledging a day just has 24 hours, makes you a smart human, not a loser.
4. Don’t make conflicting resolutions
You are one person that wears many hats. Don’t make resolutions, especially contradictory ones, for your imaginary clones.
Let’s say fitness-seeking-Sue makes a New year’s resolution to wake up at 5 a.m. every day to exercise.
Then, have-to-make-partner-Sue stays up until 1 a.m. polishing up presentation slides or whatever else partner-seeking people do.
Not to mention super-parent-PTA-president-Sue is busy baking cookies at 2 a.m. because she never wants to show up to bake sales with the store-bought stuff.
Something’s gotta give. And something will unless Sue realizes she’s just one person and reprioritizes her life. She may well be able to achieve it all; just not at the same time.
Don’t google examples to show me a superwoman who has managed to do it all. There’s a reason this person is showing up in google searches. She’s unique. The other 7 billion of us are mere mortals.
5. Set SMART goals
Not to sound like a corporate shill, but got to give credit where’s it due. SMART goal setting is one of the few corporate buzzwords I love. This is a concept that actually makes sense (unlike other corporate mumbo-jumbo) and can be easily applied to personal life situations.
For anyone that’s ever been subjected to a performance appraisal process at work, you probably understand what SMART goal setting is. Did I see you wince? For others, I envy your ignorance in this matter. Rest assured I’ll do my best to share in the agony.
If it’s so painful, why do it?
It can be painful due to corporate constraints. But on a personal level, for goals you want to set for yourself, it can be quite a fun challenge.
SMART is an acronym:
S – Specific
The goal is not too general. You know exactly what you’re going for.
Bad goal: ‘Lose weight’
Better goal: ‘Lose 12lbs’
M – Measurable
The goal should be measurable i.e. you need to be able to say whether you achieved the goal or not. Black or white. No grey!
Bad goal: ‘Become a better writer’. While it sounds like a good goal to have, how would you know, if you’ve become a better writer at the end of the year? Are you a better writer when people stop blocking your website? Or when Grammarly checks your content and finds just a few errors instead of a whole page of errors?
Better goal: ‘Get published in a publication with 10,000 readers’. This goal is measurable. Either you got published or you did not. (Yes, I know this doesn’t make you a better writer, but as a goal it is objective).
A - Achievable
This one is easy. Be realistic when you set goals.
Bad goal: Play an 18-hole game of golf on Mars
Better goal: Play a 9-hole game of golf at your local municipal course. (Note: I’m assuming you know how to swing a club already, if not even this may be a tough task).
R – Relevant
Do your goals make sense, given your current circumstances?
Let’s say you have a young family and a full-time job and you are yearning for some spiritual wisdom.
Bad goal: Attend a 3-month residential monk-training seminar at a monastery in the Himalayas
Better goal: Join a local spiritual study group and attend weekly classes
The Himalayan training may be an option for you, just not right at this stage in your life. Unless you decide to give everything else up. In that case, I hate to break it to you, you’re reading the wrong article.
T – Timely
Timebox your goals.
Bad goal: Lose 12 lbs
Better goal: Lose 12 lbs by December 2025
Without a timeframe, a goal is just wishful thinking, like something written on water. So, always, timebox your goals.
Now that you understand SMART goal setting, let’s see how to go about creating effective New Year’s resolutions.
How to create effective New Year’s resolutions
Ultimately, different areas of your life need to be in balance. Short-term imbalances across these areas are okay, but in the longer term your sanity will depend on keeping these areas in equilibrium:
- Wellness – Health and nutrition
- Family & Relationships
- Lifestyle factors
- Hobbies and leisure
Goal setting requires you to find out what’s going on in each of these areas in your life and whether or not tune-ups are needed. Take your time to ponder. I’ll elaborate on this later in a follow-up post.
Anyone out there who does not want to say bye-bye to 2020?
Auld Lang Syne, a Scottish poem, is traditionally sung to bid adieu to the old and welcome the new. It has kind of become the anthem of New Year's eve parties.
You can spend time between now and the New Year either learning to sing Auld Lang Syne or start laying the groundwork for your New Year resolutions. The former will make you happy for a day, the latter sow’s seeds for a lifetime of fulfillment.
Life is always full of choices. Remove your shoes or scrub the floor. The choice is yours.