New Year’s Resolutions: From Mountains to Moguls

By the time you are reading this, it will be the end of January. That means that almost a month has passed since millions of Americans optimistically waited till the cusp of the new year to set their New Year’s resolutions.
If you were one of the many who decided to set a resolution or two, now is probably the time when your tenacity has started to dwindle. But if this applies to you, please know that you are not the only defeatist. According to the New York Post, only about 8% of people who set New Year’s resolutions are able to keep them each year.
Personally, I believe that almost all of the New Year’s resolutions that we set have an expiration date, and that is because we tend to set unrealistic colossal-sized goals.
One reason for this may be because of the conception that the new year offers a clean slate. When setting resolutions, people try to have high expectations, and approach the process with a “new year, new me” outlook. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a little optimism, but sometimes this thinking tends to cause us to be a little overzealous, and to set resolutions that are too big for us to realistically achieve.
Sure, setting a big resolution can motivate you to work hard and challenge yourself which is great. But your ability to meet your resolution is actually determined by whether or not you can sustain that motivation.
According to a manuscript written by Dustin B. Thoman and Carol Sansone, two professors of psychology at the University of Utah, whether or not you can sustain your motivation to reach a goal is determined by three things: the consequences of the goal, how much you value it, and how much you expect to attain it.
So let’s say that your goal is to start working out everyday. Your motivation to meet that goal would then be determined by the soreness that you feel after working out (the consequence), how badly you want to get into shape (how much you value the goal), and how realistic you think it is that you will workout everyday (your expectations of attaining the goal).
The problem with setting big New Year’s resolutions is that unfortunately your cheery-New-Year’s attitude most likely won’t last forever. So a few weeks into the new year, the resolution may start to seem less attainable, and as a result, your motivation to achieve it will also diminish. And just like that, you find yourself in a familiar whirlpool of guilt and regret because once again, you were not able to reach your New Year’s resolution.
However, this noxious cycle is entirely avoidable. Indeed, there is a way for you to set resolutions that will actually yield results of self-improvement. Instead of setting big unattainable resolutions, you can come up with smaller, bite-sized, resolutions that will be the stepping stones to achieving your larger long term goals.
For example, if your goal is to read more, but you haven’t picked up a book in two years, don’t start off by going out to Barnes and Noble and buying philosophical novels from the 19th century. First, go to Rite Aid and pick out a magazine that seems interesting to you. Then, after doing that a couple of times, maybe start to also pick up a newspaper when you go, and even then, you can just start with reading your favorite section.
As opposed to big resolutions, you are more likely to attain smaller ones because it is easy to sustain the motivation to do them. This is because smaller goals are generally more realistic, so the chances that you expect to attain them are higher. What’s more, the consequences of smaller goals are likely to be less severe than those of larger goals, and you may also value the smaller goals more than the larger ones because they are less demanding.
Although starting small may take a little longer, the end result will definitely be worth it!
And if you take anything away from this at all, it should be what I tried, but maybe failed to articulate with that crude reading example: the goals that you set can be small, everyday activities that you can do anytime. So hopefully, this new, and more forgiving approach to New Year’s resolutions will inspire you not only to rethink how you set your next year’s resolutions, but to set out to make resolutions more often. Because resolutions help us to welcome new beginnings, and as T.S. Eliot once observed, “every moment is a fresh beginning.”