Setting and sticking to New Year’s resolutions

Did you set a New Year’s resolution for 2024? Perhaps you’re considering trying to get fit, spend less time on your phone, read more, beef up your savings account, or spend more time with loved ones in 2024. New Year’s resolutions are a ubiquitous tradition. In fact, a recent study by Forbes conducted on US participants, indicated 62% of people feel pressure to set a resolution for 2024. However, despite our best intentions, it can often be very difficult to follow through on the resolutions we set. In fact, you might already be feeling yourself slipping into old habits as the holiday season draws to an end and 2024 gets truly underway.

In 2023, although 80% of Australians set resolutions, 46% found they were too busy to sustain them. More than half of New Year’s resolutions fail. In part, this may be because we set them out of social obligation, more than a genuine intent to achieve them. It may also be because we lack the tools to follow through with our initial resolve.

Here are a few tips to get back on track with your resolutions and boost their chance of success

Set SMART goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Be as precise as possible in what you’re aiming to achieve. If I set a vague goal to “exercise more” in the new year, I have no way of assessing my progress or gauging whether my goal is appropriate to my current context. If I instead set a goal to “go to the pool at least once a week, and swim 500 metres”, I have a much clearer and more motivating pathway forward.

Identify current barriers to meeting this goal

Ask yourself, “why haven’t I been practicing this resolution already?” Life is never as simple as identifying what we should be doing, and just doing it. If it were that easy, we would all be at our prime of physical health; and have spotless, Mari Kondo-ed houses, with no vices whatsoever. There must be a reason why you’re not already practicing your resolution. Identify what that is and consider practical solutions to work around it.

Be mindful of black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking

We often fall into the trap of believing we have to do something perfectly, in order for it to be worth doing at all. If we slip up on our journey towards achieving our resolution, we can tell ourselves the whole idea is redundant and abandon it. In reality, small steps forward are better than no steps at all. And part of planning for success is expecting to falter at some points too.

Manage expectations

Remember, also, there is nothing inherently special about January 1st. We can choose to be intentional about crafting the kind of life we want to have at any time. Every moment is a new opportunity to take a step towards the life we want. Even if you haven’t used the previous moment effectively, this moment is another chance to do so.

Goals versus values

With all of this in mind, it’s important to consider though, that setting resolutions or goals is not the only approach to creating a purposeful life. It might not even be the best approach. The problem with structuring our lives around goals, is that we are always living for the future. Goals can distract us from the wonderment of the present moment. Instead of being present, we are living for the fleeting sense of accomplishment, when we finally do what we set out to achieve. Sometimes it’s even difficult to feel satisfied in that moment, because we beat ourselves up for not having achieved our goal perfectly. Or because we are already thinking of our next goal. It can be unrelenting. And a really limited source of fulfillment.

The alternative is to direct our lives according to our values. Values can be a compass that you carry with you day-to-day. They can anchor your decisions in the service of a meaningful life, whilst ensuring that you are responsive and mindful in the present moment. We aren’t always in control of whether we reach our goals, but we do have control over acting in accordance with our values. Values are rooted within us, rather than in what we can achieve within the external world. If we have a clear sense of our values, often we feel more grounded within ourselves as we navigate everyday life.

Essentially, goals are the destination and values are the journey to get there. Values and goals can work together to create purpose and meaning in your life. But striving for goals, without a clear sense of your underlying values, can often feel hollow or restrictive.

As we turn the page and welcome a new calendar year, perhaps take this as an opportunity to reflect on your values and how you would like these to inform the year ahead.

Written by Tahlia Sanders, Clinical Psychologist.

More information

If you're concerned about managing personal expectations, or to book an appointment with Tahlia Sanders or another one of our experienced clinical psychologists, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.

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