It’s that time of year again when we’re likely to set goals and high hopes for the 12 months.
The problem with New Year’s resolutions, however, is that they’re so darn hard to keep.
We wake up on January 1st with the best of intentions, lots of energy, and even a well-laid plan to tackle it all.
By March, though, most of these goals are simply a distant memory.
Old habits return, and life goes on.
When we look at the psychology behind failed resolutions, there’s a few reasons why even the most practical of goals tend to bomb:
1. You’ve bitten off more than you can chew
Often when making resolutions we identify a major life theme that we want to change and take a broad, general approach to tackling it.
For example, saying that you’re going to “eat healthier” in the New Year is really abstract. Are you going to try a specific diet plan like Paleo? Are you simply going to swap out your morning bagel for fruit?
Big goals are great, but you have to pick somewhere to start.
2. A year is a long time
It’s human nature to evolve and shift our preferences over time as our surroundings and circumstances change. Add to that unexpected life changes.
Say you get laid off from your job after resolving to get to work by 8:30 every morning, or become bored with that exercise routine you committed to doing five days a week. The fact of the matter is, things change.
Committing to one resolution for an entire year — with no wiggle room for to evolve —doesn’t fit into how life really works.
3. You get caught up in the New Year hype
You’re more likely to break New Year’s resolutions than other goals because of the sheer pressure to make one even if you aren’t intrinsically motivated or ready to change.
It’s much easier to fall off the wagon quickly if your heart’s not in it.
4. You try doing too much, too soon
Most people, by the time they get to the end of the year, are totally burned out and don’t give themselves time to rest and rejuvenate heading into the New Year. If you start on an empty tank emotionally, physically, or mentally, it’s going to be hard to keep any goal.
Though sometimes hard to keep, in the end resolutions can make a big difference.
They can set the tone for your entire year ahead, and force you to get clear about taking steps to achieve new success.
The key lies in creating resolutions that promote self-growth and understanding in a structured way. So how can you cultivate passion and purpose that won’t leave you frustrated in a couple months?
Here are alternatives approaches that will help you improve your quality of life in the coming year:
Select a word to guide your year
Identify a word or mantra that maps back to a theme you’d like to focus on and weave into your daily life.
For example, if your word is “ease,” consider how you can create match your actions to the value of “ease”. How can simple tasks such as running errands feel less rushed or design your schedule to reduce stress?
Repeating this enough can help you invite new people, habits, and behaviors into your life that aligned with your values and the goals you seek to achieve.
Make use of micro-goals
Major goals can feel like they’re miles away. When we don’t achieve them in the (often unreasonable) time frame we expect, it can lead to feeling depressed, discouraged, and defeated. Motivation begets motivation, after all.
Start by setting mini-milestones that are reasonably attainable. You can measure your success against each of these, adjusting and gathering momentum as you go along.
Rather than making a huge resolution — say, to start a business in 2015 — break it down into smaller pieces: set up time to meet with mentors in January, write out a business plan in March, set up a website by July, and raise $10,000 by September. This way, you can measure your progress and celebrate each success as you achieve it. You’re avoiding feeling overwhelmed (starting a business is a huge deal) and have metrics to measure against as you go along.
Pick priorities for each area of your life
Similar to setting numerous smaller goals throughout the year, consider setting an individual resolution in each area of your life you’d like to improve upon — health, career, finances, and relationships.
You might commit to monthly dinners with your roommates for the “relationships” bucket, taking a new fitness class each month for the “health” bucket, and automatically transferring $150 to your IRA each month for your finances.
All of these are attainable goals, which can lead to huge differences in multiple areas of your life.
Bullet-proof your goals
Once you’ve decided on a goal, bolster it against the craziness of daily life. Think through possible scenarios that might come up that could derail you from your goal.
For example, say you want to live a healthier life by setting goals around diet and exercise, but you know you have work trips planned. You could defend your goal by researching restaurants beforehand, finding out if the hotel has your gym and working that into your schedule, etc.
You want to be defensively pessimistic and anticipate challenges before they come up the way, rather than being surprised when they inevitably appear and catch you off guard.