The holidays are always an interesting time. In one month, we seek peace and go to parties. We engage in spiritual practices while splurging on the goods and experiences we deny ourselves the rest of the year. Hygge meets FOMO. We wonder why we are tired.
New Year’s Eve caps off the calendar and offers a place to set a new life course. Humans have considered the new year a place to start improvements for at least 4,000 years. Last year, nearly a quarter of Americans surveyed by YouGov planned to make resolutions, and those who planned to participate reported more optimism than their counterparts.
Optimism alone, however, may not lead to success. Most of us have broken resolutions in our wake, but with planning and self-love, we can increase our chances of success and ensure that our resolutions are the right fit for us.
Find Your “Why.”
Finding the motivation to exercise has been hard for me as an adult. The “shoulds” I tried to get healthier did not resonate with me long enough to develop a meaningful habit until I read “The Three Questions” by Don Miguel Ruiz. He characterized the human body as one’s most loyal friend and pointed out that “[w]hat you command, it will do its best to obey.”
Reframing my body as the best listener in my life changed my perspective on exercise and helped me see the benefits of taking better care of a valuable resource. If there is a goal you have had trouble pursuing, find your “why.” You might need a different way of looking at your journey.
One size does not fit all
There may, however, be other reasons a goal does not seem right for you today. Most American participants who made resolutions last year planned to be healthier, engage in personal improvement, or lose weight. Why the numbers trend so heavily toward those resolutions is beyond the scope of this article, but even beneficial resolutions may not be right for you in the present moment.
What goals get you excited for the new year? Whatever they are, the point is progress, not perfection. Make room for relapses and give yourself grace. Reevaluation is important as your life changes, and the goal can become a “not now” as opposed to a “not ever.”
The SMART goal framework can help you work effectively once you have settled on a resolution. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The relevance – finding your “why” – keeps the exercise from feeling like homework. The best “why” is one that resonates with you, and practically speaking, relevant goals will more readily work themselves into your lifestyle.
Making the goal specific and measurable allows you to gauge your strategy’s effectiveness, and adding a time limit will motivate you to begin. A goal within current reach may not seem exciting, but building on achievable wins is a sound way to keep momentum.
Today’s New Year’s resolvers join an ancient practice that began with making promises to the gods. We now make promises to our future selves, and with research-based techniques for goal-setting and follow-through, the results can be uniquely fulfilling and have a better chance of success.
Stephanie Barca is a therapist at BHC and intends to pick a word of the year.
 The ancient Babylonians held a religious festival at the beginning of their year in which they promised to return borrowed objects and repay debts. Pruitt, S. (2020). The History of New Year’s Resolutions. The History of New Year’s Resolutions - HISTORY  Frankovic, K.& Sanders, L. (2021). Americans who plan to make New Year’s resolutions are more optimistic about better things in 2022. YouGov. https://today.yougov.com/topics/society/articles-reports/2021/12/23/americans-who-plan-make-new-years-resolutions.  Ruiz, D. M., & Emrys, B. (2018). The Three Questions: How to Discover and Master the Power Within You. HarperCollins.  Frankovic, K.& Sanders, L. (2021). Americans who plan to make New Year’s resolutions are more optimistic about better things in 2022. YouGov. https://today.yougov.com/topics/society/articles-reports/2021/12/23/americans-who-plan-make-new-years-resolutions.  More on the SMART goal framework can be found here: How to Write SMART Goals (With SMART Goals Templates) - Lifehack.  I liked this concept of “win walls” from Ken Gosnell: How To Build Personal Momentum: The Power Of Win Walls (forbes.com). Our minds naturally tend to focus on the negative, and recognizing wins is important to a realistic outlook.  Pruitt, S. (2020). The History of New Year’s Resolutions. The History of New Year’s Resolutions - HISTORY