No New Year’s Resolutions

December 26, 2022 Swedish Behavioral Health Team

[3 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • New Year’s resolutions are a popular January tradition but studies show many of them are forgotten almost as quickly as they’re made.

  • Losing weight, eating better and increasing physical activity are among the most popular resolutions each year.

  • Use the SMART goal setting approach to fine tune your goals and improve your likelihood of success.

Good intentions and lofty aspirations are the annual theme of January for the millions of us who make New Year’s resolutions at the start of every year. Fast forward a month or two – or, let’s be honest, sometimes much sooner – and we have given up even the initial effort we’ve made toward change.

Making a New Year’s resolution or two is an annual tradition for many Americans. A 2020 study reports that 44% of participants were likely or very likely to make resolutions at the start of the new year. Follow up showed roughly half had given up on their resolution before its one-year anniversary.

Why is it so difficult to keep New Year’s resolutions? And why do we continue to make them if we rarely succeed in reaching our goals?

“Perhaps the new year is felt by many as a fresh start. It can be a time to refocus on one’s wellbeing and the things that matter most to them,” says Kelly Barton, LICSW, MPH a behavioral health provider with Swedish Medical Group. “There may be something to us being a little lax with healthy habits during the holiday season and wanting to get back to healthier habits once the new year arrives.”

Living healthier is a common goal for many people every year. Popular resolutions include losing weight, eating better and increasing physical activity. Success depends on a number of factors, says Kelly.

Identify your “why”

Setting specific goals with outcomes that enhance your quality of life increases your chance of success. It’s easier to go through the challenges of change if the end result is potentially life changing.

“In my professional experience, resolutions and goals in general, prove most beneficial when they really mean something to us.  Exploring why we are considering the resolution/goal is essential,” says Kelly. “Our ‘why’ can be a boost and a strong motivator.  The new year may naturally give us that opportunity to highlight what we care about and honor that with possible action as the new year goes along.”

Let go of perfection

If you wake up on January 1 expecting to be a whole new person, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, according to Kelly. Be realistic about what you can achieve and create a plan with small, manageable steps to get you where you want to be.

“Harm can come if we set ourselves up to expect perfection when goal setting. Perfection is rarely a human’s experience.  If we don’t reach a goal perfectly, we can be pretty unkind to ourselves, and it may have been an unreasonable expectation in the first place,” she says.

“Success is within our reach,” adds Kelly. “It really depends on how we view New Year’s resolutions.  If we see them as growth opportunities, working on what we care about is worth something significant in and of itself.”

Set SMART goals 

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” And that’s never been more accurate than when you’re trying to make major life changes. It’s helpful to define your goals and identify the specific steps that will make them a reality. The SMART goalsetting method can help you plot your course successfully.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. To determine if your goal is SMART, ask yourself the following questions:

Specific – What exactly are you trying to accomplish?

Measurable – How will you know when you’ve reached your goal?

Achievable – Is your goal realistic with commitment and effort? Do you have the resources you need? If not, how will you get them?

Relevant – Why is this goal significant in your life?

Time-bound – What is your timeline for achieving this goal? Have you set a deadline for yourself?

“It seems common that pressure comes from trying to get a resolution perfect. In reality, giving ourselves grace and wiggle room to be human may free us from the self-imposed pressure to be perfect. It may actually result in more progress and better success rates,” says Kelly. “The word ‘resolution’ seems to indicate that we really do care about what we are working towards. Even if we don’t get it perfect, that genuine care and concern still stands for a lot.”

Additional resources

When it comes resolutions, small changes are best

Start the year with a simple resolution: An organized pantry

Try Dry January

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Swedish Behavioral Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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