You know the drill — as the end of the year swings into view, you solemnly swear to your higher power (or your group chat) that this next year is going to be different. You’re going to quit sugar. You’re going to hit the Peloton at 6 a.m. every day. You’re going to finally roll over your 401(k). You’re making a resolution, and this time you’re actually sticking with it.
You’ve also probably found yourself, a month later, surrounded by a fresh pile of Red Velvet Oreos while your bike shoes and Suze Orman books turn to compost in the corner of the garage. While you might have chalked this up to lack of personal willpower, this is actually how most resolutions end — roughly 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.
But according to experts, it’s not that we’re not committed or don’t care; it’s because traditional New Year’s resolutions aren’t planned in a way that’s likely to yield real change.
So if you want to make changes in 2023, don’t get caught up in the resolution hype cycle; instead, make some more sustainable goals. Our tips below will get you started.
Why most resolutions fail
According to Kaitlin Soule, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of A Little Less of a Hot Mess: The Modern Mom's Guide to Growth and Evolution, many resolutions don’t work out because we’ve absorbed overly rigid messages about self-improvement. Many of us were raised to think of change as a one-way street — you’re either making progress or you’re failing. So when we run into a hitch in our plan, instead of saying, “‘Alright,I’m going to try again tomorrow,’ we tend to go with “I’m the worst, I can’t follow a plan, I might as well just give up,’” says Soule.
So how do you avoid the traditional resolution cycle of overcommitment and burnout?
1. Understand why you’re doing it
Rather than jumping straight into an intense resolution, consider why you want to make this change. This will help during the inevitable bumps in the road. “If we don’t think about the why” of our goals, says Soule, “we tend to get lost.” So if your goal is to exercise more, dig in to what you’re hoping to get out of it. Do you want to feel healthier? Be better able to keep up with your kids during playtime? Feel more in control of your body? There’s no right or wrong answer — but fully understanding your motivation will make you more likely to stick with your goal.
You can also use this information to set an intention for the new year rather than a strict goal, which, according to Phylice Kessler, a licensed mental health counselor with Mindpath Health, can help you think about your goals more holistically. “Intentions can be words, phrases, affirmations or feelings,” says Kessler. “For example, ‘I am getting healthier every day,’ or ‘I am strong, independent, and successful.’ Intentions are meant to make you feel good and inspired,” as opposed to resolutions and strict goals, which can make you feel like you’re lacking.
2. Set achievable goals
What’s appealing about resolutions is that they’re hard-core by nature — but that’s also why you’re likely to drop them. Setting yourself up for success, says Soule, may mean choosing a smaller goal. “Make it even smaller than you think you should,” she says. If you’re totally out of practice with exercise, instead of planning on working out for an hour every weekday, says Soule, try something like “I’m going to move my body for 20 minutes at a time, three times a week.” “Somebody who’s more used to making these big, audacious goals [might think], ‘Well, that’s nothing.’ But what we know is that the more we engage in a positive behavior, the more likely we are to keep doing it,” says Soule.
3. Don’t criticize yourself when you go off track
Even the most disciplined among us has a week where even a large cash bribe could not get us to do that 15-minute HIIT ride. Though we’re told that the way to deal with this is to push ourselves harder, that actually isn’t the path to lasting change, no matter what the inspirational murals at your gym say.
Instead, Soule suggests, when you start comparing yourself and despairing, think, “Is that [thought] actually going to serve me? Or is this hurting me?” Then consider what to replace that negative self-talk with — something like “Hey, I’m doing things differently this year because I want to do something sustainable.” If you fall into old negative thought patterns, bring yourself back to the now with “That was the old story. How do I want to change that story?”
And when all else fails, says Soule, consider whether you’d want your child to talk to themselves that way, or whether you’d talk to a loved one like that. The answer is probably no. “I always err on the side of treating yourself like you would treat a best friend, or your favorite pet, or somebody you really love,” Soule says, “where you’d just say, ‘It’s OK, we’ve got it next time.’”
Gabrielle Moss is the editor at Stripes. She's the author of Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Slate, GQ, Buzzfeed, Marie Claire and elsewhere.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska/ Pexels