We’ve all made annual New Year’s resolutions that seem important at the time but never come to fruition. Why is that? And what is it that drives us to create resolutions in the first place?
First, a few facts. A 2007 study from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year’s resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. Another study suggests that 92% of those who make resolutions fail. These aren’t good odds.
Before looking at what pitfalls might be working against our best intended resolution making, I’m wondering what the heck the word ‘resolution’ really means. Turns out it can mean a lot of things. The Latin root, ‘re-solvere,’ means to loosen or to release. And the modern word can be used for a variety of purposes, to mean everything from a decision or determination to a measure of image sharpness.
These meanings are all interesting, and may start to shed some light on why the word ‘Resolution’ has seemed to forever hook up with its less responsible and party-‘til-midnight partner ‘New Year’s’. But what do we really mean by the entire concept of New Year’s resolutions, and what drives us to create them year after year? In my digging around and looking at various definitions, I think there are four essential elements to consider:
- Resolutions are decisions to do or not to do something: When it comes down to it, resolutions are essentially decisions. They represent an intention, and are based in underlying attitudes, perspectives and values, which we often revisit and refresh in the new year. That intention can be connected to taking action or not taking action. Sometimes the inaction can be just as powerful as the action.
- Resolutions involve firmness of intention and purpose: The element of firmness is an important one, and I honestly didn’t expect to run into it when considering the meaning of resolutions. Why? Because it’s sorta the opposite of how we often treat resolutions in actuality. But they are really meant to carry a certain weight of intention and purpose. The firmer our intention and purpose, the greater chance we have of truly integrating and acting on our resolutions.
- Resolutions represent a desire for improvement or change: What’s beautiful about resolutions is that they ultimately represent what I believe is a common and deep human desire for improvement — a reaching towards something greater for ourselves.
- Resolutions are about something you want to internalize, integrate and make ongoing: Resolutions don’t seem to typically involve temporary decisions, or short-term actions. They tend to encompass something deeper and more long-term — something we want to integrate and underlie our ongoing attitudes and therefore behaviors. In other words, to turn into habit.
That’s all well and good, but what are the pitfalls we often get into when creating resolutions? Here are a few common things to avoid in your resolutions making. I give you…your resolution ‘smell test.’ Avoid making resolutions that:
- Are too lofty and far-reaching
- Require too much progress, action or accomplishment too soon
- Are too numerous
- Are too vague, with no supporting structure or action plan
- Don’t involve some level of accountability
- Aren’t based in a broader vision or purpose for yourself or your professional growth
To increase your chances of follow-through on your resolutions, and ensure you’re not part of the 88% of the population that isn’t successful, keep these tips in mind as you head into the year with refreshed intentions:
- Make them public; Share them with others: It’s easy to keep resolutions to ourselves, as this leaves us somewhat off the hook. Saying them out loud gives them that extra level of firmness, and sharing them with others means that you’re now more accountable for the follow-through.
- Ask for direct accountability from a coach, friend, co-worker: Sharing your resolutions with others achieves a certain level of accountability. To kick it up even a few more notches, ask for the support of a specific person who can act as a partner — to check-in on your progress at regular intervals over the year. If it’s a friend or co-worker, you can do the same for them.
- Embrace mistakes and take on a spirit of resilience: Keeping resolutions will have its challenges, so know ahead of time that you’ll make mistakes and fall off the wagon, which is all part of the process. Instead of ‘i give up,’ cultivate a spirit of resilience and persistence in getting yourself back on track.
- See the long view: Look at your next year from 10,000 feet, and focus on the progress you’ll make over that entire time, vs focusing on temporary set-backs or what appears like only incremental movement
- Use helpful, small physical reminders: Come up with creative symbols, pictures, or physical objects that can act as little reminders of your resolutions and their associated vision for the future of you. Put these objects somewhere that you’ll see or encounter them every day.
- Don’t give your success away to perfectionism and the fear of failure: These two factors hold incredible power over us as individuals, and often keep us paralyzed. You are not perfect and you will fail at times. Get over it, and make your vision for growth more important than the fear that you won’t get there.
- Recognize and silence the inner critic: We are often our biggest enemy. Learn to recognize inner-critic self-talk that downplays your true potential, and make the choice to set it aside for the sake of an authentic voice in you — one that has the courage to take risks and accepts that you might fail big in the process of working toward your resolutions for change and growth.
- Only about 8 – 12% of us keep our New Year’s Resolutions
- Resolutions are firm decisions to incorporate ongoing action or inaction into our lives around certain areas, with the ultimate desire for improvement and change
- Avoid making resolutions that are too lofty, too vague, too numerous and aren’t based in a broader vision
- Increase your chances of follow-through by incorporating accountability, resilience, broader perspective, helpful reminders, and a willingness to set aside the inner critic
Try this Out:
- Start with the end in mind — think first about what you want to feel like or have achieved at the end of the year. Back up from this to come up with resolutions that will help get you there
- Recruit a ‘resolution buddy’ — a friend or co-worker to help create dual accountability
- Share your resolutions on Facebook to create group accountability
- Keep a list of your resolutions on your computer screen at work, or on your bathroom mirror at home
- Set quarterly ‘resolution review’ sessions for yourself so you don’t loose focus over the year