Why Don’t New Years Resolutions Work?

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As the year reaches its end, we often begin to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what we hope to achieve during the next. A common tradition to bring in the new year is to set resolutions. These are promises you make to yourself for the following year. Common resolutions tend to be “Next year I will lose weight,” or “I will read more,” or “I will quit smoking.” While it’s good to have something to accomplish for the next year, people often fail to achieve their resolutions before the year’s end, and many give up halfway through.

The Issue With A Resolution

While someone might have their best interests in mind when writing New Year’s resolutions, making these promises doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, resolutions often fail to come to fruition. There are many reasons why this tends to be.

The most common reason is that resolutions tend to be vague. Someone might resolve to lose weight, but they aren’t specific about how much they want to lose and how they plan to achieve that goal. It becomes closer to being a wish than to being a goal. There is no backbone or structure to the goal.

SMART Goals and Why They Work

There is plenty of power in goal setting that rivals a New Year’s resolution. Goals can include a lot more information than a resolution. They can also be tweaked if the plan isn’t working for the person setting them. SMART goals are:

  • Specific: Instead of “I would like to quit smoking,” you can expand on that goal. It could be precisely what you’ll smoke less of, how you plan to stop smoking, and for how long. The more specific the goal, the easier it is to visual your path to achieving your goal.
  • Measurable: Your goal should be something you can quantify. If your goal is to quit smoking, ask yourself how you plan to stop smoking. The goal could be “I will only smoke three cigarettes a day and then after a few weeks, work down to two,” and so on.
  • Attainable: The goal you set needs to be something you can actually achieve. You most likely won’t be able to lose a bunch of weight in a short amount of time, and you probably shouldn’t quit smoking cold turkey. When you set your goal, make sure it’s something that you can realistically achieve. This helps you avoid failure and disappointment in the future if you don’t reach your destination.
  • Relevant: Many lose sight of their goals because they just aren’t interested anymore. Despite the lack of interest in achieving the goal, those who set it might still feel guilty or like a failure. It is entirely normal for motivation to change. A goal set at the beginning of the year might have lost its appeal six months in. When setting goals, make sure they are relevant to you and the things you want out of life.  This is also why it’s recommended to check in with your goals periodically to make sure that they are still something that matters to you. If they aren’t, then it might be time to rework the goal or drop the goal altogether. Being mindful of the goals you are actively pursuing and why it matters can help with goal completion.
  • Time-Bound: If you don’t have a set deadline for your goal, then you’re only allowing yourself to keep putting them off. Setting deadlines for goals will give you a timeline to follow. You can even set smaller deadlines for smaller steps needed to reach your ultimate goal. These deadlines can help you stay focused and on track with what needs to get done.

The Risk of Having Expectations Too High

It doesn’t feel good to fail at goals. While not completing a goal doesn’t mean that a person is a failure, missing the mark on one can negatively impact your mental health. Having higher expectations for your year might feel exciting initially, but meeting those expectations can fill you with unnecessary stress and damage your motivation to keep trying. When the year comes to an end, take the time to really think about what you can accomplish during the next. Some goals might take longer than what is possible in a year, and that’s okay. Some goals might require smaller and more manageable steps. Setting these goals can work as a start to something bigger down the road.

Setting meaningful goals at the start of your year instead of resolutions improves the chance of actually completing what you’ve set out to do. Resolutions tend to be too vague and are more challenging to accomplish. Taking the time to see your vision of a new and possible future will make it easier to reach those benchmarks. It might feel simple just to say “I want to quit smoking,” when in reality, you only sell yourself short by not setting smarter goals.

Goal setting is a significant part of successful recovery and can be implemented in every aspect of your life. The new year is a perfect time for fresh starts and trying new things. Making a promise to yourself is the first step. Setting a SMART goal is the rest of the journey. For more information on goal setting for the year ahead, call Jaywalker at (866) 529-9255. Together we can envision a future where you can accomplish anything. 

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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