How long did your New Year’s resolution last? A day? A week? Are you still, by some miracle, managing to persevere?
It turns out that most people’s resolutions last as long as the Christmas cheese, with some not even lasting that long (particularly if their resolution is to lay off the cheese). But if we poke at the idea of New Year’s resolutions and the structure which underlies them, it becomes pretty evident that setting a resolution can also set us up brilliantly for failure (which does absolutely nothing to counter the grey January vibes).
It turns out that nearly a quarter of people have given up on the idea of a “new” them by the end of the first week in January, while well over half of people who set resolutions quit by the end of the month.
Quitter’s Day – the name given to the second Friday in January by the people behind exercise app Strava –isn’t so much a celebration of failure as it is a reason to start again, and review the entire process of making a resolution.
At a time when goal setting is becoming a priority for so many people – whether from a business or personal perspective – why do we bother with wishy-washy resolutions, rather than specific goals with actionable plans? Especially when the failure of a resolution can have such a profound emotional impact?
I’ve been discussing resolutions with friends a lot over the past few weeks, and one thing that keeps coming up in our conversations is fact that resolutions tend to come from a sense that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. “I want to lose weight (because I’m too heavy)”. “I want to get fitter (because I’m out of shape)”. “I want to stop drinking (because I tend to overdo itsometimes)”.
See? A resolution tends to be the result of a negative impulse, and so has the potential to make us feel pretty bad about where we currently are.
Another glaring issue? There’s rarely a concrete plan underpinning that desire to change.
When we set a resolution we need to be asking ourselves why we are doing it, how we will achieve it, and what our overall goal actually is.
When I talk about goals with people, I borrow a bit from the SMART idea system, which states that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound (although I do tend to be a little hazy on a couple of letters, but that can be next year’s resolution). If these, the “T” (time bound) element tends to have the largest impact on whether or not something is achievable.
You want to get fitter? What does that actually look like? How can it be measured? Do you have something in mind you want to achieve? When are you planning to achieve this by?
From there, you break it down into small steps: what will your next meal look like? Could you walk to work today instead of driving?
In a perfect world, you might find yourself at a point where you can share this goal or plan with a friend who will support you on your journey; somebody who will keep you accountable and drive you on when you really, really want that leftover bit of Christmas cheese.
Finding the right person to share a goal with can be the key to helping you achieve it. You need people who you look up to, whose opinion you actually care about, and most importantly, you need people who you know will support you.
Another issue New Year’s resolutions is the timing. They take place post-Christmas, when we’re all a little stressed out. We’re cold, we’re tired, we’re full of Christmas food and booze, and we’re cruising towards the month that is best known for being incredibly depressing.
Timing is key in so many aspects of life, and the timing of a New Year’s resolution couldn’t be worse. The credit card bills start rolling in, and it’s dark by 4:30pm. We go back to work after two weeks of forgetting we even had a job, and if we’re self-employed the tax man comes knocking. It’s a hard month.
And yet this is when it’s tradition to set vague wishes that are hard to achieve; when the odds are stacked more firmly against us than they will be all year.
With Quitter’s Day here, it’s the perfect excuse to change tack. Let’s resolve not to see our lack of resolution as failure, but instead reframe it as a learning step. Moreover, let it be a sign to move on to a goal setting method that actually has a chance of working.
Also, let’s not forget that goals, resolutions, or a plan for self improvement can happen at any time of the year. It doesn’t have to be January 1st. It doesn’t even have to be January at all; or Monday, or even the start of the day.
We can decide to change whenever we want; but let’s just put a plan in place to give us a chance of achieving it, shall we? And maybe the first part of that plan can be putting the concept of the resolution in the bin.