No more resolutions

Jan 31, 2022
Research shows that it takes an average of 32 days for New Year’s resolutions to be broken, so by this time tomorrow, most of us would have abandoned our goals for the year. But who says we have to consider this a failure? Only 1 in 7 Americans believe that they will achieve their New Year’s goals. If we assume that we are not disciplined enough, will succumb to peer pressure or do not have adequate support, or that we are too busy or lack the resources to execute our plans, among the primary reasons cited for this lack of confidence, why do we bother to make resolutions in the first place?
Two-thirds of people surveyed reported that the act of setting resolutions helped them to make positive changes over time. This is consistent with the results of another study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology that compared people who made New Year’s resolutions to those who did not. Compared to people who did not make resolutions, those who made them were more likely to achieve their goals six months into the new year (46% versus 4% success). Still the majority of respondents across similar studies do not reach their goals.
In the short-term, the disappointment of not reaching goals can be the difference between achieving or not achieving long-term goals and experiencing shame and anxiety around our perceived ability to do so. Yes, the new year signals an opportunity to start with a clean slate and set the tone for goal-crushing for the coming year, but it is not exactly a catalyst for change.

A New Year, A Fresh Start


You don’t need resolutions to start the New Year. The first of the year is not the only opportunity we have to get a "fresh start" when it comes to our wellness, fitness, professional, finance, and personal goals...or any goal for that matter! Mondays (for most people) offer an opportunity to hit the reset button. And the good news is, you have 52 Mondays every year to move forward towards reaching any goal you have for yourself.
The new year signals an opportunity to start with a clean slate and set the tone for goal crushing for the coming year, but it is not exactly a catalyst for change.
In fact, anchoring or synchronizing goals to temporal landmarks such as the beginning of the year, week, month, or other significant markers (e.g., holidays and birthdays) has been shown to help people consistently meet and stay on course with their aspirational goals, including lifestyle, behavioral, and personal “pursuit” goals. Researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine Milkman, and Jason Riis provide some evidence of what they described as the ”fresh start effect” whereby time-based markers motivate and increase individuals aspirational behaviors. According to The Monday Campaigns, variations of this phenomena have been observed, including the “Monday effect” which explains why people who engage in healthy behaviors on Monday are more likely to sustain healthy behaviors throughout the week and why Monday cues are useful for helping people maintain New Year’s resolutions by setting small, achievable goals for the start of the week and cueing a weekly reset to recommit to goals. Therefore, we can leverage the power of the fresh start mindset as not only motivation to change, but as a tool to sustain those changes.

A Fresh Start, Now What?


What matters more than when you start is what you do when you start. Research on the psychology of habit formation shows that the repetition of simple actions (i.e., habits) in a consistent context results in those actions being repeated each time those contextual cues are encountered through a process of associative learning. As New York Times Bestselling Author, Darren Hardy describes in The Compound Effect, people who make smart choices and consistently achieve small goals are more likely to succeed due to the compound effect. If we focus on the accumulation of progress on small goals over shorter stretches of time (a week or even a day), those small successes will result in consistent and significant results in the long-term. This can be combined with a fresh start mindset to capitalize on the cumulative effect of motivation, as well as consistent choices, behavior, and habits.
Whether you have lost sight of your New Year’s resolutions or are feeling overwhelmed by your long-term goals, you have the power to create a routine that builds on your fresh start mindset. Here are a few things you can do now to jumpstart your refresh.
  1. Start small. We tend to overestimate how much we can accomplish in the short-term (e.g., in a day) and set ourselves up for failure. Whether you are starting off with a laundry list of goals or just a few, narrow it down to small but meaningful goals. If your big picture goal is to develop a five-day fitness routine and you have not exercised for the last five years, you are more likely to achieve your goal if you start with an action-oriented, reasonable goal like parking a little further from your building. You can then build on your successes by adding more time and variation to your goal (e.g., walking for 15 minutes during your lunch break).
  2. Prioritize. Think about what it would look like to approach your goal one day at time, or even one Monday at a time (i.e., one week at a time with Monday being your anchor). This will be based on a reasonable assessment of how much time you can commit to your goal. Once you have nailed this down, dedicate a specific time and place to work on the goal and prioritize it. Schedule it like you would any other appointment and let anybody who will listen know about it, especially those who are most likely to infringe on this time. We’ll talk about setting boundaries in a future post.
  3. Remember your why. There’s a reason you are doing this and that reason is likely the most powerful predictor of whether you will succeed. Assuming your goals are aligned with your values and purpose, make sure to keep your goal and your why front and center. Use a post-it, a daily calendar reminder, a screensaver, or some other visual cue to remind you why failure is not an option. The more meaningful your cue, the more likely it is to motivate you.
Are you ready for your fresh start? How are you planning to show up this Monday and every day that follows to meet your goals? Let me know in the comments or on Instagram @thedoctorrae.

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