• Apollo

How to keep your New Year's resolutions

In 2020, 74% of adult Americans were determined to learn something new, make a lifestyle change or set a personal goal in 2021, according to a Finder survey. However, according to the clinical psychologist J. Luciani, a shocking 80% of New Years resolutions fail by mid-February.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't aim for improvement next year, quite the contrary! You just need to figure out how to do it right.

Stop thinking in years and transitions to succeed

Think about it: there's no good reason to limit your goals to new year's resolutions. If you really want to improve, you can start right away. The "new year, new me" mindset can even harm your chances of success as it sets you up for the eventual "I'll try again next year" excuse. While change might and could happen overnight, success is exceedingly rarely instant. There are a million reasons why gradual and consistent change is much more effective than a sudden transformation.

While I'm skeptical of resolutions, the new year is a great opportunity to review my performance in the past year. I make just a few if any realistic resolutions and I start my progress before New Year's Eve. That way I'm already gaining momentum to establish the habit or goal I'm striving for.

Think of it this way: You don't wait until January to fix a leaking faucet if you're in December already. Treat your body and life with that same respect and deal with your problems bit by bit. Where could you be in February if you started now?

A powerful, healthy, and easily attainable habit is to walk for 15 minutes every day.

Don't be too vague – set S.M.A.R.T goals

According to psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, setting too vague resolutions is an easy way to set yourself up for failure: It's much easier to walk away from an ambiguous goal, such as "losing weight" or "exercising more".

A modest and well-defined goal is not only more attainable but more realistic. For instance, if you decide to set a goal to exercise for 60 minutes every week, chances are that you will be motivated to up your goal to two hours per week once you realize how surprisingly manageable it is to work out for 60 minutes per week.

According to goal-setting theory, specific but difficult goals are superior to vague or abstract goals: George T. Doran formulated the S.M.A.R.T way to achieve goals more efficiently. This way, goals are more realistically achieved if they are:

  • Specific – targeting a specific area for improvement, like "running for 60 minutes per week" instead of "exercising for 60 minutes per week"

  • Measurable – progress can be easily measured, like "walking for 15 minutes every day" instead of "walking a little bit every day"

  • Assignable – specifying who will do it (this applies more to a working context, in the sense of "better lead generation by the marketing branch" than "better lead generation")

  • Realistic – toning down your goal from "running for 2 hours every day" to "running for 2 hours every week"

  • Time-related – setting a realistic deadline or time span for when the results can and will be achieved, e.g. "I will run a 5K in two months" instead of "I will run a 5K"

(I've underlined the specific elements in the examples that make your goal adhere to each component of S.M.A.R.T )

Approach, don't avoid!

Research indicates that approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals in striving for self-improvement. What this means is that you should set your goals through approaching what you want to achieve, not by trying to avoid the bad result. For example, if you want to eat healthier and find yourself eating too much sweets and fast food, you should set an approach-based goal of "I will try to eat healthier portions and meals" instead a more punishing "I will not eat candy or fast food at all", based on avoidance.

Avoidance is much more punishing and demotivating: If you fail your goal, there is no "unfailing" it. It's strictly absolute, an either-or challenge. You either avoid the goal completely (which is often unrealistic) or you mess up and fail. It makes you feel bad because you can't try again, often causing you to abandon your overly strict resolution.

With approach-based goals, you have a positive goal that you get multiple attempts to try to complete, like with the "eating healthier meals" goal: You can start gradually by setting a more specific goal, like "I will eat one healthy meal every day in January", and gradually increasing it until you find yourself eating three healthy meals a day. That's not only much more modest but forgiving than being exceedingly harsh to yourself.


Like the content? You can always contact me at apollo@therationalsociety.com to give feedback, comments, or topic requests. I'm constantly working on improving the blog both through its visuals and content, so feedback is immensely valuable. Great foundationally important topics are coming in 2022!