Why Resolutions Don’t Work — And What to Do Instead

"The New Year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals." — Melody Beattie

Many of us begin every new year with high hopes. In fact, 45% of Americans say they usually set New Year's Resolutions, according to Inc. And we usually start strong: 73% of us keep them through the first week of the year.

However, only 8% of people actually achieve or keep the resolutions they set for themselves in the beginning of the year. Clearly, no matter how badly we want to change, something is standing in the way.

The problem? Most resolutions involve going "cold turkey." For example, maybe you swore this is the year you'll "stop eating sugar," "start going to bed earlier," or "run every day."

But when a day goes by when you haven't stuck to it? Well, you feel like you've failed. You may feel like since you already messed up, you may as well give up. And the statistics prove that many of us do.

That's why setting goals is a better strategy than drafting lofty resolutions. When you set goals, when things go off track, you don't feel like you have to drop it completely. Instead, you can adjust the goal to a lower intensity, or create a different timeframe.

For example, say you want to get in better shape. Rather than pick a draconian resolution such as "work out 6 days per week for one hour," start with smaller steps that will lead you to the same eventual endpoint, such as:

  • Integrate a 3-mile run/walk into your schedule two days a week.
  • Do a 20-minute workout at home before work three days a week
  • Pencil in time for a hike or yoga class on the weekends.

Before you know it, you'll reach your goal of working out almost every day of the week — without feeling the pressure of working out for an hour. Once you've achieved that milestone, you can start to lengthen or intensify your workouts.

Ready to actually make your goals happen? Grab a pen and paper, take some time to read through these research-backed tips, and get started on achieving everything you want this year.

(1) Find your why

Every goal-setting session should start with some soul-searching. What do you want to achieve this year, and more importantly, why? This is known as intrinsic motivation. Compared to external motivation (which could mean 'looking fit at my wedding' or 'earning more money'), psychologists say tapping into your intrinsic motivation is a key to reaching your goals.

Some questions to ask yourself to help you discover your why include:

  • Why is this goal so important to me?
  • What will my life look like when I achieve this goal?
  • What would my life look like if I didn't achieve it?
  • What additional benefits will I experience as a result?
  • How have I achieved a similar goal in the past?

(2) Get specific.

You might have heard of "SMART" goals. The acronym stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Basically, the takeaway from the SMART acronym is to give your goals plenty of details and deadlines.

Once you've come up with your BIG goals (we recommend 3 to 5), break them down into smaller steps or habits. In other words, instead of saying, "Get healthier," try: "Swap my usual sandwich and soup for a salad and soup at lunch; drink 8 glass of water per day; start taking my Binto vitamins consistently." (Psst! Here's the best time to take your vitamins.)

Or instead of "Exercise more," try: "For the month of February, go to a class at the gym three days per week and get 10,000 steps on the other days."

If your goal is to complete a big project like writing a book or starting a business, you can get specific make sure to give yourself due dates and deadlines along the way to keep yourself on track.

(3) Write monthly intentions (optional).

The idea of creating "Monthly Intentions" has been floating around the wellness world for a while, and it may or may not work for you, but we highly suggest trying it out!

Basically, it means that you create a monthly goal list in addition to your yearly goals list. This can be especially helpful if your big goals can be broken down into stages, or if you're trying to bring new habits into your life.

For example, here's an example of my monthly intentions for January 2019. These all align with what I'm trying to achieve overall in 2019, but they also speak to my current situations and obligations during this particular month.

(4) Grab an accountability partner. 

Sure, we said that the bulk of motivation should come from within, but let's be honest: Checking in with someone can also help keep you on track. We highly recommend enlisting the help of a close friend, romantic partner, or a health or life coach to help you achieve your goals.

And keep them in sight! Keep your goals (big goals as well as monthly intentions) somewhere you see them frequently — listed in your planner, on your screen saver, or taped above your desk.

(5) Reward yourself.

When you reach those milestones you've jotted down in your planner or Google cal, it's time to #treatyoself. And we don't mean by going HAM on fro-yo. Treat yourself to a manicure, an afternoon at the movies, or even a day trip somewhere you've been wanting to go. Celebrating the little victories along the way will help you stay on track and reach your goals in the long run.

Locke Hughes is a freelance journalist and Emory-certified health coach based in Park City. Her approach to health and wellness is all about balance. In other words, she believes long hikes, hot yoga, and white wine all play an important role in a happy, healthy life.

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