Why are we so bad at New Year’s resolutions?
Is it because we’re fated to never successfully improve our lives? Is there something special about January 1st that curses all into trying yet still failing? Probably not.
For me, there is a big difference between New Year’s resolutions and actual goals – and I like this distinction.
I was in a yoga class the other day and our teacher asked us to let go of the idea of new year’s resolutions and replace it with New Year’s intentions. The word “resolutions” has developed a connotation of “not enough,” that there’s something about you that you have to change, which is why most people fail in my opinion. You cannot change who you are and you shouldn’t. You cannot remake yourself in the new year. You CAN build habits and set goals and do your best to achieve them, which may change the approach you have to lif in general, or how your life looks, but at our core, we don’t change.
I also find it fascinating how much we all feel that January 1st is a new start. It’s entirely arbitrary. It’s just a day. It’s one of those social constructs that is deeply ingrained in most of us, which is so, so interesting.
Goal setting should be for the entire year, in my opinion, and your goals should never aim to change you as a person because you don’t like what you see or who you perceive yourself to be. Instead, use your goals to improve upon what is already there. To increase healthy habits in order to boost your happiness, not to make yourself more likable or better looking.
So this year, I invite you, like my yoga teacher, to join me in setting an intention instead of a resolution. For example, my intention is to approach this year with kindness and patience. There’s no way to create a plan and work step-by-step to being a better person. But we all have qualities like kindness and generosity inside of us that we can focus on. There’s no way to measure this either. You can’t see your kindness growing like the Grinch’s heart (or your muscles if you’ve been hitting the gym).
When I think about my intention to approach everything with kindness and patience, I know that sometimes I will fail. Some days I will be tired and I will snap when I could have just said: “that’s okay.” The only thing that I can do is remind myself every chance I get to find that kindness within me. I do it in yoga class, I do it in my journal, I even imagine breathing in kindness and patience and breathing out tension and harsh thoughts as I fall asleep. This may sound silly to some of you, but it’s the way that I keep this intention present with me as much as possible. If it’s on your mind, it will start showing up in your actions. When you’re stressed out, that’s not a personality trait. That’s not in your heart. That’s in your head and it shows up as tension and usually harsher behavior and words. The same goes for positive qualities.
While intentions can’t be measured, goals can and should be.
I think the key to goals is having a plan or actionable steps and consistently evaluating and re-evaluating them.
I write down all my goals in my journal, no matter how small or big, so that I can go back and see what I’ve written and which ones I’ve made progress on and which ones I have totally forgotten about.
Click here to read this other post I wrote about how to actually achieve your goals.
My first goal was to start this podcast.
Check! It may be started but I hope to actually continue with it and be as consistent as possible. I’m giving myself some leeway here as school and work get crazy, but besides missing an episode occasionally, my goal has shifted into more of a habit I’m trying to make -consistent work on this podcast.
My next goal is being able to do an unassisted pull-up.
I’m trying to be more active in general and find something active to do every day (even if that doesn’t mean going to the gym), but instead of approaching the goal in that way, which has never worked for me before, I decided to set a goal that I could SEE. If I’m upping my workouts and making progress because I’m being consistent, I’ll get stronger and be able to do an unassisted pull-up, at least, that’s the logic I’m using.
Once I make a list of all my general goals, I take each one and break it down.
Sometimes they’re really specific and sometimes less so because of the nature of the goal. For example, if you’re starting a blog or a podcast, you can easily create very defined steps and even give them separate due dates, which is a great thing to do to keep yourself on track if you can. For a blog you might break it down into researching platforms and picking one, brainstorming names and picking one, writing your “about me” for the blog, designing your home page, brainstorming a list of article ideas, writing 3 of them to publish with the launch of your blog, etc. Breaking it down into steps that only require a small amount of your time or energy every day makes it so much easier to make progress towards a bigger goal.
For something like my goal of doing an unassisted pull-up, you might have less of a plan. For me, my schedule changes a lot with work, extracurriculars and my workload from classes, so that I can’t always say that every day I’m going to the gym for an hour. Sometimes I have to skip. Instead, I’ve decided to keep in mind that I want to be active as many days as possible and I’ve decided to diversify the type of activity so that on days when I have less energy or time, I can still do something that is working towards my goal and better fitness in general.
Whenever I have more energy or at least 2 hours I can spare, I make it to the gym and lift. Other days, I go to a gentler yoga class, and some other days I just do a home workout with bands and things like pushups and burpees and lunges. The key here is just to keep track of what I’m doing, even though I don’t have a very specific plan. I built a little habit tracker into my planner where I mark if I did yoga or went to the gym or anything else that day. That way I can easily tell when I’m falling off the wagon and can re-dedicate myself.
Beyond this, I have the same goals I have every semester/year, which are to get straight A’s, or as close as possible, and to read at least 10 books.
Some years I struggle to get to 10, other years I make it to 20. I use GoodReads to track my books which I love because you can set a reading challenge and it keeps up with it for you. You just have to update what book you’re currently reading and when you finish it. These are really nothing new, I just try to incorporate good study habits and regular reading into my schedule, even if it only means a page or two of a book on some days.
Besides these goals, I have some habits that I’m working on.
The first is being better about doing dishes immediately and putting things away immediately. While I clean up regularly, I don’t want to give myself the room to allow messes to pile up in the first place when I’m busy. It’s so much easier to do 3-4 small things a day than to spend an entire day cleaning each week.
My next habit has to do with language learning.
If you don’t know, one of my majors is romance languages, which for me means that I study French and Spanish. I decided that I want to practice more outside of class and that I also wanted to start picking up Arabic. So I redownloaded Duolingo which is a really great, free language learning app. If you’re more advanced in a language, you can take a placement test to skip some levels, but it still may be stuff you already know. However, you’re still practicing daily with reading, writing, listening, and speaking which is great. Arabic is also insanely hard just FYI – props to everyone that learns Arabic. It’s wild but really, really cool. It will probably be a million years before I can actually speak even a little bit in Arabic, but I’m working on it.
My last habit is journaling.
I have journaled on and off over the years, always being really good for a while and then stopping completely. This is a habit I’m trying to get back on because it’s a mental release and it gives me the opportunity to look back on my thoughts and feelings and what was happening in my life which I love.
No matter what your goal or habit you’re building is, make sure to write it down, check in regularly, and make a plan or keep track of your daily progress.
Most importantly, don’t let self-doubt or the fear of failure keep you from progress.
Sometimes you totally forget about a goal and don’t work on it for weeks. A setback is not a failure. Look at why you stopped making progress. Maybe adjust your method or even your actual goal and try again.
Just because your progress is slow or seems like less than that of other people, doesn’t mean you’re not doing a great job. Progress is progress.
And lastly, if a goal you’re trying to achieve is not making you happy, maybe that’s not the right goal for you. Make sure you’ve set that goal for the right reason. For yourself, for your health, physical or mental, for your happiness, etc. Not for anyone else. Some goals take a lot of hard work and frustration. But there’s a difference between a hard day and something that is not making you happy. You don’t have to achieve the same goals as other people in order to be happy. Being skinny or having a perky butt or 10,000 Instagram followers will not by itself make you happy. You can have the perfect body and perfect Instagram life and be incredibly unhappy. Measure yourself only against yourself.
There’s my motivational speech for the week – whether or not you need it, I hope this has helped you to become motivated to set goals and has helped you get a clearer understanding of how you want to approach them.