Long debated has been the subject of making resolutions as a way to welcome in a new year. While some believe it is a worthwhile moment of reflection as well as motivation to enact your goals, others think it is a futile, quickly abandoned and often self-deprecating attempt to improve our lives. Everyone thinks and works differently, so it is impossible for one strategy to unilaterally benefit all who use it. This is why our traditional notions of New Year’s resolutions could use some expansion.
Make it specific
Some of the most common New Year’s resolutions involve exercising more, eating more healthily, reducing screen time, saving money and spending more time with loved ones. What these all have in common is lack of quantifiability. How does one gauge what “more” or “less” is when there is no benchmark to hit? This ambiguity often leads to dissatisfaction and a lack of feeling accomplished, or disillusionment that causes people to abandon their efforts altogether.
I have certainly made my fair share of idealistically ambiguous resolutions in the past, just to forget about them entirely in a matter of months (or weeks). This year, I had the goal of doing more creative writing. Instead of leaving that as the resolution, I decided I will write one poem every day. I keep a tab in my notes app titled “Daily Poems,” and each night before I fall asleep I type one out in bed.
I have found this to be much more gratifying than the constant pressure that comes with vague resolutions: “I’m not writing enough” or “Why am I so unproductive?” I scroll through what I have made so far and feel proud to see such a quickly accumulating catalog of my year. Granted, it is a month into 2024 and who knows where I will be by December, but doing one intentional small thing, one day at a time is a good start.
I put out a question on Instagram to learn what others people’s resolutions were. I saw lots of this same specific goal-setting. A couple people dedicated themselves to read a precise number of books this year. Another vowed to stay off their phone for one hour before bedtime. Yet another, similar to mine, decided to draw something every day. These are easily trackable goals that hone in on one important area of life adding structure but not pressure.
Make it enjoyable and achievable
It can be harder to maintain a resolution when it entails something you do not enjoy doing but feel that you should, or that it is “good for you.” We are much more motivated to continue working toward a goal when the steps necessary to achieve it are something we take pleasure in.
My roommate, for example, made her resolution to watch as many movies as possible that people are shocked she has not seen, such as “The Godfather” or “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.” As someone who has not seen Star Wars or almost any Marvel movies (do not come for me), I get it. The process of acquiring expertise in popular movie culture is not an onerous task she has to dread, but a relaxing one she can look forward to.
There are also ways to make a not inherently fun task into a less daunting one. Creating incremental goals with associated rewards is one way to keep yourself motivated to stick with your resolution. If you want to be more responsible with your finances, you could set a spending goal for each month and if you hit it, celebrate with a friend. Breaking down broad tasks allows us to feel a little sense of victory each time we succeed, creating more of a positive association with that activity. I mean, who does not love clipping coupons?
You could also try to find small things you enjoy within the larger tasks you have been dreading. Want an exercise regimen but can never seem to stick with it? Find some work out clothes that you feel cute in and get into a show or podcast you are only allowed to watch or listen to at the gym. Resolutions can live or die in this silver-lining, and turning a chore into a hobby, while difficult, can be worthwhile.
Another strategy is, as Forbes recommends, making a “don’t do” list. This changes the emphasis from pushing yourself to showing restraint, which for some can be a lot easier while still making a meaningful change. “Do not get a speeding ticket” might be much more helpful than a simple, “Drive more safely.”
Give yourself grace
Many people tend to feel bad about themselves around New Year’s as they go through things that they perceive as wrong with them or their life — I know I have. Reframing our idea of resolutions from fixing to growing, improving to exploring, can open up a world of possibilities.
One student told me that one of their resolutions was to “move (their) body out of joy and passion and not obligation.” This is a beautiful reimagining of a more traditional resolution around exercise. It strips the activity of negative associations that it may take on and encourages celebration of anything that feels good in the moment.
This shows how a resolution does not always have to be a concrete goal, it can be a mindset to carry with you throughout the year. Being flexible is key to finding satisfaction in one’s accomplishments. Nothing ever turns out exactly how we expect, and letting ourselves adapt our resolutions as the year progresses is important.
No matter how you do resolutions, if you do them at all, I hope you find 2024 to be a rejuvenating and fulfilling year. A resolution can be a goal, a hope, even just a small tick on a bucket list. I have a friend whose resolution is simply to learn to do a single pull up. New Year’s does not have to be about restructuring your whole life; it can be about ending the year with the absolutely killer pride that you, yes you, can do a pull up.
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