Forget New Year’s Resolutions, be Better Day by Day

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If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution, you’ve also probably broken one. That is at least what the statistics suggest, as one Forbe’s Magazine study found that only eight percent of people regularly achieve what they resolved to do on New Year’s.

It is easy to look at this with a pessimistic view and say that people just can’t change. But, I believe it’s only a matter of how you go about it. The issue is that a New Year’s resolution is the wrong way to motivate yourself. Change is actually achievable, but only once you get beyond the final achievement mindset and start working towards smaller daily improvements, or daily resolutions.

The problem with making a New Year’s resolution is that you’re biting off more than you can chew. People often make their resolutions about the things they’ve wanted to do for a long time, but never managed to work into their schedules. We shouldn’t expect one eggnog-motivated promise to make the difference. If you’ve already unsuccessfully nagged yourself about it all year, what will a New Year’s resolution change? People understandably focus more on their daily needs than on holiday promises, and because of that, they tend to slip back into old routines.

New Year’s resolutions also usually fail because people have a tendency to put off difficult tasks. In that context, New Year’s resolutions can just make the problem worse. If the reason you haven’t finished that memoir you want to write is because it is daunting, telling yourself to finally get it done may just build it up even more in your mind.  The kick-the-can-down-the-road excuses are certainly understandable for very busy people, and I know that I put things off constantly, which certainly makes it hard to accomplish our big life goals.

Resolutions should, instead, make our goals seem more achievable. Rather than piling on more pressure over the holidays to try and force ourselves into action, we should work on breaking those big dreams into bite-sized pieces. That way, our life goals can seem much easier to fit into our packed schedules. Writing a novel is really hard, but writing that first paragraph should feel a lot easier, even to the most rushed professional. How hard could the second paragraph be? The third? Baby steps.

What I propose to those who have suffered from New Year’s disappointments is to create reasonable daily goals. A daily resolution could be the first step in a long-term plan or just a temporary one-time accomplishment. The important thing is that the steps are manageable. By making your daily resolutions attainable, it’s harder to ignore them.

The best part about daily resolutions is that, without even thinking about it, you can be accomplishing those daunting tasks little by little. If you set a daily goal to go to the gym and do some light exercise, you will be improving yourself and may find that the exercise is a little easier the next time around. If you set a daily goal to pick up a handful of trash at your local park, you may find that the park looks quite a bit cleaner if you go to pick up more the next day.

What should be reassuring to those who have missed out on New Year’s ambitions before is that daily resolutions set you up to succeed, not fail. Because daily goals are self-contained, you can get a sense of achievement even when you take that small first step towards something long-term. Daily resolutions can allow one to stop stressing about the future and focus on what is attainable for that day. That may mean that on some busy days you won’t be able to achieve anything new. But, when you have free time and you are able to create that daily resolution, you may be surprised by what is accomplishable.

New Year’s resolutions make enemies of our future selves as we try to pressure ourselves into doing what we could not previously do. Daily resolutions let us live in the now and be realistic about what we can achieve. Yet, by being realistic and accepting our stress and limitations, we can achieve so much more.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

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