Home Health Why your healthy New Year’s resolutions failed – and how to reboot them

Why your healthy New Year’s resolutions failed – and how to reboot them

by Tania Griffin
A dart board with darts pinned down

Do you remember the New Year’s resolutions you made at the beginning of this year? If they’re already long abandoned, you’re in good company – research suggests around 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. “It’s a shame because often those well-intentioned proclamations have to do with improving our well-being,” says Maya Rutstein, product architect at digital well-being platform, soSerene.

According to Forbes research, the most common theme for New Year’s resolutions in 2023 was improving mental health, and this year the focus was on getting fitter. So, before you give up on yourself for another whole year, let’s take a look at how you can reboot those resolutions into solid goals.

Why New Year’s resolutions fail

“To avoid making the same mistakes, we need to look at why our resolutions failed in the first place,” says Rutstein. “For starters, a New Year’s resolution is often a broad statement of intent that’s inspired by the tradition of setting intentions for the new year, but lacks any kind of plan when it comes to how we’re going to achieve success – or what success even looks like. It’s hard to achieve a goal when you don’t have a clear roadmap to follow or any way of measuring your progress.”

That’s not the only reason resolutions fail, though, she adds. “When we set New Year’s resolutions, we’re often in an idealistic state of mind. So, we end up setting overly ambitious goals that become unrealistic once we’re back in our regular routines. This leads to disappointment and discouragement.”

Other reasons we may fail are lack of support, external pressures such as life changes or stress, or simply losing interest.

How to make goals that stick

A good framework for solid goal-setting is the SMART approach. “This is designed to take a vague aspiration and turn it into a goal that can be achieved,” says Rutstein.

SMART is an acronym that can be unpacked as follows:

  • Specific – The goal should clearly define what you want to accomplish. It should answer the who, what, where, when, which and why.
  • Measurable – There should be a way to measure your progress. This helps you stay on track and motivated.
  • Achievable – The goal should be realistically attainable with the resources, knowledge and time you have available.
  • Relevant – The goal should align with your broader life ambitions and values. It’s important that a goal matters to the person setting it. If you’re trying to achieve something just because someone else said you should, your chances of success will be low.
  • Time-bound – There should be a clearly defined timeline for the goal. This creates a sense of urgency, which in turn will encourage you to prioritise working toward the goal.

SMART goals in action

To see what this looks like in practice, let’s take a look at the world’s favourite New Year’s resolution for 2024: “I want to get fit”.

“Framed in this way, this resolution is broad and vague. It doesn’t outline how the goal will be achieved, nor does it have a measurable or time-bound aspect,” notes Rutstein. “It’s more of a wish than a goal.”

Transforming this intention into a SMART goal could look like this, she says: “I aim to jog for 30 minutes, three times a week, after work, and increase my distance by 10% each month, aiming for a 5km run in six months.”

This goal is Specific (jogging a certain amount of time and number of days), Measurable (30 minutes, three times a week, with a 10% increase in distance monthly), Achievable (it starts with a manageable routine and builds gradually; it doesn’t require exercise equipment that you may not own), Relevant (aligned with the broader objective of getting fit), and Time-bound (there are weekly targets and a six-month milestone). It provides a clear roadmap for what success looks like and how it can be achieved.

How to stick to your goals

Setting a goal is one thing; sticking to it can be quite another. Rutstein says a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can help you stay on track.

“Intrinsic motivation comes from within – we engage in an activity because we find it inherently fun or satisfying. In the example of wanting to get fit, choose an activity that’s genuinely fun for you. If you absolutely loathe running, you may want to choose something else, like brisk walking or home workouts.”

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves external rewards or pressures. “You could enter a 5km race that’s taking place in six months’ time so there’s pressure on you to train. Or you could publish your progress on social media so that you receive the reward of people acknowledging your efforts.”

Finally, be open to learning and adapting along the journey. “Continuous learning involves seeking out new information and being receptive to changes, while adaptation means adjusting goals and methods as our understanding and circumstances evolve,” says Rutstein. For example, you may find that you need to change how you eat to fuel your new running habit, or that running before work is better for your schedule.

Together, these principles encourage a flexible and dynamic approach to well-being, ensuring your journey remains relevant and responsive to your changing needs and insights.

Now that you have the tools, here’s to making the rest of 2024 your healthiest year yet!

Image credit: kenshinstock/Freepik

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