Forget New Year’s resolutions – setting clear goals during the year is the way to go.
For many of us, New Year’s Eve is a time of reflection. We think back on the year that was and ask ourselves; ‘What am I proud of? What have I achieved?’
Hopefully, there are a number of positive things that spring to mind.
It’s also a time to reflect on what might not have gone so well during the year. Maybe you had trouble eating a balanced diet. Or maybe you didn’t spend as much time on your hobbies as you would have liked.
And in the spirit of the last day of the year, you vow to do better next time.
But New Year’s resolutions have an irritating habit of falling through. By the end of January, our good intentions start to dwindle. Three months in and we’ve well and truly given up.
Don’t overestimate yourself
So why do we struggle to stay motivated?
According to Dr Megan Turner from Deakin University’s School of Psychology, our troubles start with the resolution itself.
“In many cases, people don’t set goals that are achievable or realistic,” she says.
“This can include choosing goals that are too big, or under-resourced.”
So setting a resolution to run five kilometres every day might be too much too soon – especially if you’ve barely risen from the couch in a state of post-Christmas stupor.
We also tend to forget about what could impede our progress over the year.
Let’s say your goal is to eat better.
Over the holidays you have an abundance of time to try different healthy recipes and eat a balanced diet. But once you’re back at work, you might have days where you crave comfort food, or the ease of a takeaway meal.
Perhaps a more realistic version of this goal would be that you would like to limit your consumption of unhealthy foods.
To help achieve this, you might decide to try a new healthy recipe each week or avoid the junk food aisle at the supermarket.
You might still purchase the occasional pizza, but the intent isn’t to give up certain foods entirely.
Instead, you’re seeking to prioritise healthy choices, and acknowledging that you’ll be hankering for some discretionary foods just as much as you have been over the past year.
Set goals that are meaningful to you
It’s also important to consider why your resolutions are important to you. Research shows that, if you find them meaningful in some way, you’re more likely to stay motivated.
Let’s say your goal is to read more books.
Is reading your way of winding down after a busy day? An opportunity to learn more about the craft of good writing? Or a chance to join a book club and socialise with like-minded people?
Thinking about your goals in this way could help you understand what you’d like to get out of them, and help you feel fulfilled when you achieve them.
Some of us may think of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as talismans. These days are almost magical periods, and the goals that we set on those days can feel more significant.
But often this feeling only lasts while we’re in the moment, petering out when we’re forced to hold ourselves accountable to our resolutions.
Dr Turner suggests that we can get caught up in the romance of the New Year. We end up making inspired, but unrealistic goals that we inevitably lose interest in.
“I wonder if setting goals at the beginning of the New Year, and then not thinking about it much for the remainder of the year, is a form of collective and culturally sanctioned procrastination!” she says.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to wait until December 31st in order to set yourself a meaningful goal.
In fact, you can set yourself a goal right now.
“There is no reason why goal setting needs to coincide with a ‘fresh start’ in time,” Dr Turner says.
“In fact, research has shown us that people who set goals regularly tend to be happier.”
And setting aside time to reassess your goals and how you can achieve them can make you more likely to accomplish them.
It also helps to use a goal setting framework to help ground what it is that you would like to achieve.
Dr Turner recommends using the SMART framework when setting goals. She says that a recent study showed that the process helped to reduce procrastination and impulsivity.
Here’s a basic rundown of the SMART framework:
S = specific.
Be clear about what your goal is, and what needs to happen so you can achieve it. It may be useful to break a bigger goal down into smaller goals, to help you maintain your motivation and focus.
M = measurable.
Consider how you will be able to prove that you’ve achieved your goal. Will you be consistently exercising a few times a week, or spending less money on junk food?
A = achievable.
Ask yourself if your goal is within your capabilities. If it isn’t, adjust it accordingly. You can always work your way up. Dr Turner says that goals often fall through because they’re not achievable for the person setting them.
R = resourced.
Make sure you have the means to accomplish your goals, and plan ahead for any potential problems along the way. Worried you’ll run out of time to practice the bassoon during a busy week? Plan around it in advance.
T = timeframe.
Give your goals a due date. If your goal is long-term, you may wish to set yourself short and medium term goals that build on each other in preparation for the long term goal.
Dr Turner says that it’s important to set aside time to evaluate your goals as you progress through the year.
Ask yourself; are my goals still a good fit for me? If not, how can I modify them?
Taking the time to tick off any completed goals and add new ones is also important.
Don’t set yourself a spontaneous resolution this New Year’s Eve.
Instead, plan your goals in advance, and consider why they’re meaningful to you and how you can best accomplish them.