When we really look at the numbers, it turns out that New Year’s resolutions aren’t so much a chance for self-improvement, as they are a chance for disappointment. But the trouble isn’t us! It’s just that resolutions rarely ever go as hoped. According to one study, 80% of people have already abandoned their New Year’s resolutions by the second week of February, and only about 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions.
This year let’s step away from New Year’s resolutions, because there are better ways to pursue our better selves. Read on below for more thoughts on New Year’s resolutions, where they can steer us wrong, and how we can make more sustainable changes in our lives.
Where do New Year’s resolutions go wrong?
1. They tend to be way too broad
Unlike specific, well-planned goals, New Year’s resolutions usually tend toward vaguer desires for self-improvement. I want to be in better shape this time next year, or save more money, or have better relationships, and so on. But unless a goal is specific and measurable, we’re likely to fail the pursuit. Try breaking your resolution down into it’s most basic steps, into daily and weekly tasks, so that you can really track your progress and keep on course.
2. They distract us from the day-to-day work
New Year’s resolutions train us to think of self-improvement in terms of years for scale, when self-improvement is really a daily effort. Instead of focusing on a vague finish line, a whole year away, we have better odds of success when we think of self-improvement as a daily commitment to a healthier, more sustainable and satisfying lifestyle. It’s not one big resolution to be reached in a year’s time; it’s a dozen of small, good decisions made each day.
3. They train us to fixate on our shortcoming
New Year’s resolutions very often end up focusing on what’s wrong with us. It’s always a good idea to address our bad habits. Eat less junk food, exercise more, quit smoking—these are all very sensible, good ideas! But becoming better versions of ourselves is more than just cutting out our unhealthy behaviors. We are more likely to achieve our goals when they also inspire real passion. Try to frame your goals and resolutions in terms of something you want to achieve, rather than just in terms of the things you’d like to avoid.
4. They emphasize transformation over growth
It may be a brand new year, but it’s not a brand new you, and that’s a good thing. New Year’s resolutions encourage us to think about big transformations, but you don’t need to be a brand new person to be well. Instead of transformation, we are better off imagining self-improvement as growth, and the way we grow is by showing up every day and trying our best. Rather than focusing on the things you’d like to transform about yourself, try taking an inventory of your best qualities instead, and then focus on nurturing those qualities to their fullest potential.
5. They tend to be all or nothing
New Year’s resolutions are easy to fail because they’re so often framed as zero-sum scenarios—either total success or total failure, and nothing in between. But out here in the real world, change is gradual. It’s an effortful, bit-by-bit process, flagged with setbacks at every turn. And it doesn’t happen without failure. So if you slip up on your project of self-improvement, as we all do, don’t decide you’ve failed just yet. Just try again tomorrow.