We’re only a few weeks out from the New Year, and with that, people everywhere are saying, “Thank God 2016 is over,” and also “Time for New Year’s resolutions!” Before you pin down your goals for 2017, there are certain questions about your New Year’s resolutions that you should ask yourself. Are they feasible? Are they coming from the right place? Are you setting yourself up for success?
The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside before their makers achieve them. Research from the University of Scranton suggests that only 8 percent of people keep their resolutions in a given year. Why so few? There are a lot of reasons that resolutions might not work out — a major one being simply that change is really, really hard — but one issue might simply be that people don’t fully think through their goals before setting them. They have good intentions, but they don’t give themselves the right tools to get to the finish line.
Despite New Year’s resolutions’ low success rate, a lot of people continue to make them — as much as 40 percent of the U.S. population. The popularity of making a resolution for the new year can seem kind of random; after all, how is that any different from setting a goal any other day of the year? And yet, I get it. There is something about turning over to a new year, a new calendar, that feels empowering — the world is starting fresh, and you can, too. A new beginning is an inherently hopeful thing.
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If starting 2017 off with some positive change is compelling to you, start thinking now about the resolution (or resolutions) you’d like to implement in the new year. But ask yourself these questions first:
Take a moment to think in broad strokes. Why do you want to make this resolution? Where do you want it to lead you? Do you want to be healthier? More calm? More social? Try to hone in on how you want to feel this time next year.
Your ultimate goal may be broad, but your resolution should be as specific as possible, so that you have a clear way to implement the change you want to make. For example, you can resolve to “cook more meals at home,” but you won’t actually do it unless you specify what that means for you. Does that mean you cook every night? Three nights a week? Give yourself a clearly defined task.
It’s important to be sure that your specific resolution supports your larger ambition. Is your resolution the best way to get to where you want to go? Say, for example, you’re feeling burnt out and overwhelmed, and you want to feel healthier and happier. You decide to make a resolution to get up an hour early to do yoga four mornings a week. That could be a great way to address the problem, but consider it from other angles. What if what you really need is to cut down on your commitments and simply get more sleep? Try to consider a variety of approaches to find the one that will best answer your needs.
Every year, I’m tempted to make waaay too many resolutions. I start with a laundry list of things I wish I could implement in my life but that, for whatever reasons, I clearly haven’t. If I have any hope at all of actually keeping a resolution, my first job is always to whittle that list down to one or two things. Remember, your goal is to keep your resolutions and make real change in your life — and you won’t be able to do that if you’ve spread yourself too thin.
Your resolution should come from you, because you want to change and make your life better. Only you can decide what “better” means in the context of your own life — other people don’t get to make that choice. Besides, resolutions are hard enough to keep when you really, really want to keep them — if your heart’s not in it (but someone else’s is), it’ll be a lot more difficult to stay the course.
Ask yourself, “Am I setting myself up for success?” With resolutions, it can be helpful to think in terms of small, measurable, doable changes. If you make a resolution to completely upend your life overnight, you are (consciously or unconsciously) setting yourself up for failure, and that's self-destructive. Your resolution should be something that ultimately makes you happier, not yet another thing that makes you feel badly about yourself. So start with baby steps if you need to — after all, small changes can lead to major transformations in the long run.
Lofty goals are great and all, but you need to game out how you are going to implement your resolution within your daily life. For example, if your resolution is “I’m going to start going to the gym,” ask yourself, “What gym am I going to go to?”, “How much does a membership cost? Can I afford it?”, “How many days a week am I going to go? How will that fit into my work schedule?” Getting the details figured out at the beginning will help you stick to your goals over the long haul.
Your New Year’s resolution should make you happier, and yet, too often, people make resolutions rooted in shame and negativity. For instance, some of the most popular resolutions have to do with weight loss — “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year,” “I’m going to fit into those jeans by April,” “I’m going to go down a size,” and so on. Often these goals come from a place of body shaming. They implicitly say, ““I am not OK the way I am, and I won’t be until I lose 20 pounds.” These resolutions perpetuate a cycle of shame and self-hatred, because they make your size into a reflection of your success or failure, a measure of your dedication, willpower, and virtue. That’s no way to live. The purpose of a New Year’s resolution is happiness and empowerment — to show yourself that you have the power to transform yourself. The goal is not to turn your own body into a stick you use to beat yourself with.
If you’re realizing that your resolutions are coming from a place of self-loathing or shame, think about how you can make resolutions that will help relieve those feelings, not feed into them. That might mean tossing out a resolution to lose 15 pounds by June and replacing it with something body positive — like a resolution to stop assigning a moral value to your weight, or a resolution to treat yourself and your body with more love and compassion. And if you want to resolve to exercise more or eat healthier food, by all means, do so, but try to separate those health goals from arbitrary aesthetic standards of what it means to have a “good” body. (Spoiler: All bodies are good bodies.) Resolve to exercise because it makes you happy — because it fills you with endorphins and helps you sleep better and lowers your stress levels and boosts your sex drive — not because you think there’s something wrong or shameful about your body the way it is. (For more about making body positive New Year’s resolutions, check out this essay by Bustle’s Marie Southard Ospina.)
I’ve found that having someone to “answer to” — even in the most superficial way — really helps me to stick to new habits. If you feel comfortable sharing your resolution with others, consider talking about it with a friend or family member. In doing so, you’ll externalize your goal, which may have the motivating effect of making you feel like your resolution is more “real.” And who knows? Maybe you can form a pact with a friend or two to help each other stay on track to keep your resolutions. That might mean a simple weekly checkup text asking, “How’s it going?” If a friend has a goal similar to yours, you may even be able to work toward your resolutions together. Having a buddy around (for exercise, for volunteering, for nearly anything) is great motivation.
If you don’t feel like you can talk to your loved ones about your resolution, or you simply want to do things more independently, look into apps that might help you stay accountable and stick to your new habits — there are quite a few of them. Again, having someone to remind you of your resolution — even if it is literally a machine — can sometimes be just enough of a boost to get you going when you’re starting to flag.
OK, I know that “My renewed health and happiness” should be enough of a reward in itself to make any habit stick, but, in practice, we all sometimes need an incentive that’s a little more… immediate. So think of some fun ways to Treat Yo’ Self when you meet certain milestones. If you’ve stuck to your resolution for three months, Treat Yo’ Self. If you’ve reached a new weightlifting goal or stayed away from cigarettes for a whole month or have finally finished off that book you’ve been “planning” to read for the last eight years, Treat Yo’ Self. If you just need a treat, TREAT YO’ SELF.
Ahem. (I love you, Retta.) Think, too, about what form your rewards might take. Do you want to give yourself something luxurious after keeping up with your resolution for a year? Or do you need a little daily motivation? This is going to sound super-nerdy, but I once got myself to stick to a new daily habit by giving myself a sticker for every day that I completed my goal. I’d put the sticker in my calendar, and then feel good about myself when I’d see a whole month filled up with them. Yes, it was kind of like First Grade, but just that tiny reward helped me to keep going. (And, dude, who doesn’t like picking out stickers? Mine were glittery and had the Avengers on them.)
The holidays are always crazy, and a lot of people wake up on Jan. 1 feeling a little worse for wear — not the best time to try to make a life change. So think about when would be a good starting point for your resolution, put it down in your calendar, and stick to it. (Although if you can't stick to it, don't let that deter you! You can always start at another time.)
Some resolutions will be fun all the way through, but others are not so enjoyable in-the-moment, even when you know they’ll be worthwhile in the long run. Ask, "How can I make the day-to-day challenges of my resolution more enjoyable?" Let’s say, for example, that you’ve resolved to give up smoking. Good for you! That’s a great goal in the long term, but, of course, quitting will be difficult to stick to in your daily life. Try to think about how you can replace the time you’d normally spend smoking with a new, enjoyable habit. That could mean having quiet teatime. Or taking up a new video game on your phone. Or taking reading breaks. These activities won’t get rid of your cravings, of course, but they might be able to make things OK enough for you to stick with your resolution.
Resolutions are easy to make and hard to keep — but by asking yourself some tough questions at the start, you can set yourself up for success. Here’s to a happy, transformation-filled 2017!
Check out the "You IRL" stream in the Bustle App starting on Jan. 1 for daily tips on how to have an empowering 2017.
Images: Hannah Burton/Bustle