We’ve been making the same mistake for over 4,000 years. In ancient Babylon, though, people made promises to their gods. Romans also sacrificed to Janus, who symbolically viewed the previous year backward and the future forwards for them. Today, when the calendar flips over to a new year, we make resolutions like to “exercise more,” “lose weight,” “get organized,” or “learn a new skill or hobby.”
Unfortunately, most people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions. It’s long been reported that a whopping 80% of resolutions are unsuccessful by mid-February. According to a study by researchers at Scranton University, only 19 percent of people keep their resolutions. And, most people abandon them by mid-January.
In short, resolutions don’t work. There are many reasons why this is true. To start with, most New Year’s resolutions fail due to their vague nature and lack of actionable plans. But, resolutions can also be so unrealistic that they’re overwhelming or just impossible to achieve. And, we also tend not to ask for help when struggling to follow through with a commitment.
So, instead of making the same mistake again this year, try out the following achievable alternatives to New Year’s resolutions.
1. Come up with a list of things to look forward to in the New Year.
According to one study, people are happier anticipating a holiday than remembering it. Why is this the case? Generally, we feel more intense emotions about future events than about past ones, notes Martha Roberts in Psychologies. Therefore, our expectation is that future events will make us feel more emotionally charged than ones that have already occurred. Additionally, we are more likely to talk about something we are planning rather than something we have already done.
Ryan Howes, a psychologist, writes, “you’re imagining a new potential future — one with good times and challenges overcome instead of a bleak, powerless tomorrow.” By envisioning something exciting, you’re countering pessimism. And, this also motivates you to keep going — even when you want to throw in the towel.
“Anticipation implies a future reward, and rewards are powerful motivators,” says therapist LeNaya Smith Crawford said. This is because when you know you will be rewarded, you’re motivated to accomplish those tasks you may not want to complete.
“Anticipation also creates discipline,” Smith Crawford adds. “It helps with delayed gratification. This teaches us that if we can be patient, a greater experience — or reward — is upon us.”
2. Map out monthly themes.
In many ways, this approach is similar to “framing your year.” However, “what I like about this is that it works with a shorter timeframe,” states Kat Boogaard. “Rather than needing to keep something up for a whole 365 days, I get to switch things up every month.”
“To start a new month, I’ll write the chosen theme on the first day in my planner,” Boogard explains. “Then, throughout the rest of the month, I’ll log the different things I did that contributed to that overarching idea.”
What happens at the end of a month (and even a year)? First, you’ll have a detailed account of everything you did to improve yourself.
3. Decide what to track or measure.
Think about what you want to track or measure this year. Some ideas would be keeping a time log or productivity journal, tracking your weight, or how you spend your paycheck.
At this point, you don’t have to decide what you’re going to do with the items on your list. Instead, you’re just brainstorming. And, hopefully, inspiration will strike as you continue to gather information.
Maintaining a time log, for instance, may help you realize how much time you spend on social media or email. As a result, this could lead you to establish time limits, such as no spending no more than fifteen minutes on social media or your inbox per day.
4. Compile a SMART goals list.
“The main reason why New Year’s resolutions fail is that they are not specific enough,” states Team Tony. “While it’s always good to dream big, you need to break those dreams down into SMART goals. Goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and anchored within a Time frame allow you to track your progress and are key to success.”
What will you measure if you want to be healthier in the New Year? Is it preparing a certain number of meals at home instead of ordering out from your favorite pizzeria? Do you want to walk three miles every day? Measure your progress as you meet your goals and set a reasonable timeline.
Need some more inspiration to help your goals? Use these 101 inspiring quotes.
5. Create a bucket list.
Make a list of what you want to accomplish within the next twelve months instead of making a New Year’s resolution. Some folks call this a bucket list. But, if you find that too morbid, rename it to a dream or life list.
With that out of the way, how exactly can you make a bucket list for the new year? Well, that’s totally up to you. However, I think breaking your ultimate to-do list down would be a solid jumping-off point.
For example, if you always wanted to witness the Northern Lights, the best time to do so would be in December, January, or February. Knowing this gives you a specific deadline to reach this goal. But, if you need some other suggestions, here are 101 ideas you can borrow from.
Also, you’ll have a higher probability of achieving your goals if you write them down or share them with others.
6. Develop a mantra.
“The process of achieving a goal often involves changing your habits as well,” says Calendar co-founder and CEO of Calendar John Rampton. “Of course, this is always easier said than done. After all, when some of us experience setbacks, we tend to get so disappointed that we simply quit.”
“Perhaps you should adopt a ‘mantra’ instead of a resolution if this describes you,” he advises. The key is to make sure that your mantra is positive and deliberate. For example, adopting a mantra like “Ask, and you shall receive,” for the new year can make you feel more empowered and open to new experiences.
7. Write a personal mission statement.
“Mission statements help businesses stay aligned with the values they find most important and ensure they’re staying focused on the way they want to impact the world,” writes New York Times best-selling author Andy Andrews. “They can also help attract customers who share the same values.”
“So if mission statements are so critical that businesses often spend hundreds of hours crafting and fine-tuning them, why do so few people take the time to create their own personal mission statement?”
Ideally, your personal mission statement should contain clear boundaries to assist you in making tough decisions.
When you set boundaries for what you will and will not accept in your life when something outside those boundaries occurs, you aren’t even faced with a choice,” says Andres. “It’s that simple.”
“Once you declare your mission statement, you begin living it,” he continues. “You don’t have to consider much outside it.” And, your statement can be whatever length you like.
One final piece of advice. “A meaningful personal mission statement isn’t something you can just pull out of thin air,” Andrews says. With that in mind, you should answer the following questions when writing your personal mission statement.
- What is important?
- Where do I want to go?
- What does “the best” look like for me?
- How do I want to act?
- What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?
8. Reboot an area of your life.
Now and then, you need to reboot your computer. Why? Because it ensures that it keeps running smoothly. Well, the same is true with humans if you’re feeling stuck or sluggish.
As Alistair Smith once said, “Getting stuck is not a problem. Staying stuck is. Good learners practice getting unstuck.” But, where exactly do you start? Bruce Chant suggests asking yourself three critical questions to re-calibrate and move forward again.
- What do you want? “Name it. Define it. Call it out,” he writes. “Whether it is a position, a relationship, a certain income level, a number of clients — whatever it is — put a name to it and write it down. That is the goal you are pursuing.”
- What is stopping you? “Your conscience knows, and if you take time to stop and listen, it will become clear,” he says. So take a moment to reflect and listen. “Let your conscience reveal the real issue to you.”
- What do you need to do to obtain it? “You can’t make progress without taking decisive action,” Chant adds. “Making the connection between the goal and the action you need to take is the key to your success.”
9. Do 30, 60, or 90-day challenges.
With 30-day challenges, you can stay motivated and focused, and see actual results in a relatively short amount of time. The best part is that you can often accomplish these with others to foster a sense of community. And, you need motivation; you can turn these people for support.
The following is a lengthy list of 30-day challenges that can get you started.
Change things up each month with a new 30-day challenge, or even a 60, 90, or 365-day challenge.
10. Try gratitude exercises.
Adding more gratitude to your daily routine is a great way to start the new year off on the right foot. Try expressing gratitude to reduce anxiety and depression, feel more energized, and sleep easier.
The easiest place to start is by keeping a gratitude journal. Of course, you don’t have to do this daily. But, whenever you’re grateful for something specific, definitely take note of it in your journal. Another idea would be to have your family or even team share something they’re grateful for during meals.
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