It's that time of the year where people make goals about how they want the new year to end, what they want to achieve, and what things they want to add or subtract from their lives. Yet, as we've learned over the years, most new years resolutions dissolve by the second week in February, with some research indicating that resolutions fail closer mid January.
Some of the most common New Years Resolutions in the US are related to living healthier lives, according to a poll taken by 413 individuals ages 18-89 at the end of December 2022 through the Statista Global Consumer Survey.
Within this survey, over half of individuals say they want to exercise more (52%), and eat healthier (50%), while 37-40% of individuals expressed wanting to lose weight (40%), save more money (39%), and spend more time with family (37%). Additional top resolutions of 2023 include spending less time on social media (20%), reducing stress on the job (19%) and reducing living expenses (19%). Clearly, one's health is at the top of the list for making changes in 2023.
This may come as a shocker to those who try all the things in the wellness industry, but you do not need to become a new person for the new year. In fact, January is often not the best time to bring on change.
Why the Beginning of the Year Can be Difficult to Start Change
People are drawn to the idea that the new year, semester, birthday, and so forth offer new beginnings. A temporal milestone to wipe the slate clean, and start fresh on something else that they want to see for themselves. This has been coined as the "fresh start effect" (Dai, Milkman, and Riis, 2014).
I, myself, have fallen trap to the New Year's Resolution cycle on several occasions.
Set the resolution. Try for a few weeks. Lose steam. Do other things in place of the habit I was trying to change. Get busy. And by February, I have nearly forgotten that I had set out a change to begin with. (I like to call this "February Forgets"). It feels like time has just escaped through your fingertips.
This start-and-early-end to New Year's resolutions is a very common phenomenon. In a 2020 Medium article written by Jack Turner, MBA, it was found that over 80% of Americans drop off their resolutions by mid February, and that "most people had given up on their New Year’s resolutions by January 19", known as "Quitters day"
In an article by Melissa Burkley, Ph.D "Why New Years Day is the Worst Day to Start Your Resolution", it is explained that trying to fit an entirely new habit or habits on day-one of a new year can be exhausting due to the amount of energy, time, and resources just spent on the winter holidays.
She also explains the holiday habits that many acquire -- such as staying up later, eating later, eating more, eating different, drinking alcohol (for those who drink), and being around people you don't normally spend your daily lives with -- make it increasingly difficult to jump into a completely different habit, moreso than building new habits from your daily routines prior to the holidays. It simply does not offer much support for change.
Additionally, if you live in the northern hemisphere and have distinct seasons built into your landscape, this time of year is when it is the darkest, when there is minimal daylight to exert energy. Think about it, how much sense does it make to start running around with ten new habit changes -- all of which require lots of energy -- during the time of year that provides us the fewest hours of daylight, with very minimal energy-giving Vitamin D? Not a whole lot.
This article provides two options to help you this time of year: whether you still feel the burn of motivation for a new year's resolution, or if you want to sit out of the action for a while and prep for changes you want to make sometime later in the year.
If you still want to aim for a New Year's Resolution
If you're still jonesin' for a good new years resolution and have strong motivation surrounding the time stamp of January, you can still make it happen. Here are some tools to help you get there by following what us coaches often use for goal setting, using the acronym SMART:
Get clear on what it is you want. Get as specific as you can. Write it down and see how it feels to have it written on paper. Vague goals such as "sleep more", "get fit", "keep a clean house" are fine in theory, but they will leave too much for your brain to try and fill in the missing pieces that you will end up filling in the pieces with unnecessary details and actions that may take away from all your motivation.
Put your goal in terms of an amount and make it trackable. Not money, necessarily (unless of course you're looking to save or earn more). More along the lines of "by the end of this year I will be going to sleep by 10pm". This is also very helpful to use in mini moments, such as how you plan to get to your main goal. An example would be: "I will spend 5 less minutes of time at night looking at my phone each night before bed". We call this a mini goal within your main goal. It can also be looked at as a stepping stone towards the end of the goal line; which, lets face it, often feels like a daunting, lava path with tiny steps to get to the end.
Look at what in your life can make this an attainable. action-oriented goal. Get outside of the wishful mindset, and step into what makes it a reality. An example would be "the kids are sleeping much better these days, so I have room in my evening for going to bed earlier each night, now.". What would be an unrealistic goal is "I am going to go to bed tonight at 10pm" when you've been going to bed at 1 every morning for a year. It's simply not going to work out in your favor. Think smaller steps to get to your end goal.
Make your goal realistic and relevant to your current circumstances. This goes hand in hand with the "A" in SMART. Avoid overwhelming yourself, inducing unnecessary stress by putting too much on your plate, and make sure what you do have on your plate is relevant to your end goal. An example would be, "I have been wanting to go to bed earlier so I can have 30 minutes alone doing what I need or want before I go to work, and the kids sleeping better through the night will help support me going to bed earlier by the end of the year". If you change any of those moments away from relevance to your current situation, you will find it much more difficult to follow through.
You may have noticed lots of times in the examples above, that's because a timebound goal is one that is inherently measurable. By not having a realistic end goal, you set yourself up for failure by either pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion and despair with too soon of an end, or by allowing the end goal timeframe to be too loosey goosey, and not following through at all.
Alternative to a Resolution
If setting New Year's resolutions are played out for you these days, or you're still licking your wounds from the last decade's worth of ones you fell off the wagon from, consider using January and February for other uses.
Set a Theme: In an article on Huffington Post titled "Why a New Year's Theme Works Better Than a Resolution" back in 2013, Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, recommends instilling a theme for the year instead of resolutions. Instead of setting a specific goal to pop the bubbly with for the new year, set a theme you'd like to see unfold for the year. Themes have space to grow and expand throughout the year. Examples are: Mindfulness, Movement, Nourishment, Joy, Passion, Clarity, and so forth. Setting themes allow you to later create actionable steps in effort to fulfill those themes. Themes can focus on quality of your livelihood, and can help you focus on the process of your experiences as opposed to the goal itself. (By-the-by, us coaches help people focus on the process regardless of theme or goal).
Get Clear: If you know there is something that you'd like to add or see differently in your life over the next year, get clear on it. Some ways to support this are getting out of your head and into your body. Try journaling, writing pros/cons lists, trying a collage or vision board, free-writing (write without thinking, anything that comes to your mind), free-drawing (same concept but on an unlined, blank sheet of paper), meditating, or creating a ceremony around transitions. Notice what themes come up in your exploration. Do you use the word "tired" a lot? It may be that sleep hygiene or daily task organization is your next priority. Need help getting clear? A Health/Well-being Coach can offer guidance, tools, and personalized strategies to help you navigate.
Set Intention: You hear this phrase a lot these days, "setting intention". What this means is setting yourself up for future success by declaring in some way what you want to accomplish, include, or step away from. After you get clear on what it is you want, write your intention down as a sentence, word, mantra, or affirmation. Something easy for you to remember on a daily basis. This will help you solidify these intentions for the year ahead.
What Would Be Different?: Maybe you are at the point where you are thinking about the changes, but not quite ready to implement. You can start looking at how things might be different for you, or what a specific change could offer you if you were to work towards it. Would you feel more rested? Would you have more energy to spend quality time with your kids or significant other? Would you have better communication with your partner? Would you feel more financially free to take a small vacation? Whatever it is that you are looking at adjusting in your life, look at what that could offer you as a result of the adjustment.
Activate Presence: One of the best gifts you can give yourself is to simply be present. This starts by simply practicing awareness any time of the day, as often as you can. While in the present moment you can define what you're noticing about the world and use mindfulness skills to observe and respond instead of react. Using presence-based awareness helps you to determine what you are feeling, sensing, and believing in any given moment. Because of this, you can use it to help guide what you want your next step, action, or non-action to be. Want to learn about mindfulness and grow your skillset with daily tools? Click here for classes.
Final things to consider
When it comes to change and New Year's Resolutions, many people struggle immensely to follow through. Please know willpower has very little to do with it. Oftentimes it is poor planning or setting a goal that is far too lofty to achieve in a reasonable time. In coaching, we see it time and time again. Heck, I've done it to myself most my life before my coaching training.
Another contribution to falling off the wagon is people are neglecting the "why" behind their choice. Why do you really want to lose weight? Because you want to be a smaller size? Unfortunately, that rarely works. Not because it isn't necessarily attainable, but because it has absolutely nothing to do with your value system. Turns out, when you look at your values and beliefs, you can find true meaning behind changes you want, and therefore have a much better chance of sticking to them.
Some final notes to consider:
It's better to under-promise than to over-promise. Don't let your excitement or fear get in the way of what is reasonable. You don't want to overcommit yourself, become increasingly overwhelmed, and associate your goal with impossibility.
Start with ONE goal to really focus on. I cannot stress this enough. So often we want to do all the things. Maybe you are experiencing the amped up mojo that comes with new beginnings, but quickly reality will set in like a rug being pulled out from under you and you will have too many things you're trying to change, leading to instability. Again, you may quit all goals before you had a chance to make much momentum in any.
Accountability can be helpful. Whether it's a friend, a partner, a parent, a therapist, a coach, or a group, ask a trusted person to help with accountability. Choose people that are not around to judge, just to simply help keep you on track when you set mini goals for yourself. It may help to provide them with what accountability would look like for you in a given situation.
Change is hard, don't beat yourself up. Easier said than done, but giving yourself grace during transitions is profoundly beneficial for your outcome. Having a growth mindset and utilizing self-compassion provides resilience to overcome obstacles, and increases your ability to reach goals and make sustainable changes to your life.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to start your year. Whether you've got ample energy to start a new habit, or you're being called to spend the winter in full Hygge mode, cuddled at home with baked goods, books, and a pair of binoculars to watch the birds outside, listen to your body and act on behalf of your needs.
Dai, H., Milkman, K. L., & Riis, J. (2014). The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior. Management Science, 60(10), 2563–2582. DOI:10.1287/mnsc.2014.1901