Updated: Aug 24, 2022
According to a YouGov survey, 80% of resolutions fail each year. Starting with the negative stat and reality that 1 in 5 resolutions actually last isn’t perhaps the way we’d like to start 2021. But recognising this and re-framing this time of goal-setting and change will help out mental wellbeing. There is another way.
Perception of a new year, and the month of January, is often a ‘fresh start’ or ‘clean slate’. That’s understandable, the advertising industry has created this culture, which sees businesses target those of us who buy into the idea. But whilst some may think that there’s nothing more motivating than some extra pressure that comes with a new start, a fresh goal, a new target; the science would disagree. A study in 2011 found that those who had more self-compassion were more motivated to continue with a task, even after failure. Beating ourselves up for not achieving something just doesn’t work, unfortunately. Psychologists refer to this as unrelenting high standards, and suggest that in order to not feel like a failure, we push and push to meet our goals. While we might have momentum initially, the pressure increases, the energy expenditure increases, and we eventually give up.
Researchers have found that there are three very clear reasons which lead to resolutions falling by the wayside before the year is through. Firstly, the resolution isn’t about you, it isn’t what you really truly want. This makes a lot of sense, why stick at something if it isn’t really what you are striving for? Secondly, resolutions are framed in a negative frame - avoiding, stopping or losing something isn’t motivational. Thirdly, and crucially, the new goals are simply not specific enough. This is the resolution killer, the setting of targets which don’t have a clear pathway will nearly always fail. This is why short term, micro resolutions are much more effective.
The art of setting short term goals has been widely endorsed by professionals, and celebrities alike. Tim Minchin advocates this in his viral graduation address at the University of Western Australia back in 2013. It’s well worth a watch, both funny and inspirational, and he boils the point down really well. “I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you.” Ambiguous, hard to reach resolutions can bog you down. Selecting something tangible to work on will ultimately make all the difference in your success.
Then there is author Jaya Jaya Myra who believes that we wouldn’t need resolutions if we simply chose something we loved. Selecting an action that made us happy and integrating it into our daily routine is so much easier to make happen, and has the added bonus of being enjoyable.
In a similar spirit, back in May of 2020, I wrote about the positive impacts of developing new habits during the COVID lockdown. While the context for it may be different, and there is a difference between habits and resolutions, the message is ultimately the same - pick something manageable, track it and move forward with positivity and determination.
So this year, rather than placing that all too familiar pressure on yourself to meet a resolution, why not consider a down-sized goal which will make you happy and be easily attainable. A small, achievable resolution is the perfect foundation on which to build. Get the satisfaction of following through on a reasonable goal, then you can build on it over the course of the year. This will improve your sense of self and give your brain a break from that beating that resolutions used to give it. After all, we’re just trying to be better.