I am a huge fan of New Year's Resolutions, and I know I'm not alone. There's something about that change in numbers, the ticking over from one year to the next that inspires us to mark time as Before and After, and to imbue it with a meaning that makes us promise to change our lives.
Celebrating the New Year in style Image from Wikimedia Commons
It's a tradition that dates back to Babylonian times, and crosses many religion and cultural boundaries. Back then, resolutions were often about repaying debts, renewing prayer or offering sacrifice. Nowadays popular resolutions centre upon health and wellbeing, or career goals. Gym memberships increase, cigarette sales fall, financial planners are called upon and we leap confidently into the New Year, assured of our success – yet according to a 2007 study, 88% of us fail.
So what are the best New Year's Resolutions? The ones we'll keep, the ones that will help us be harder, better, faster, stronger, and all-around more successful people? It turns out that it's not just the resolution that counts, is the way in which you make and plan it.
1. Firstly, your resolution must be specific. "To get healthy", "to lose weight" or "to save money" isn't good enough – without a clear goal, you don't have a clear mean of getting there, and you'll never know when you've accomplished it. Change the wording of your resolution to include the details, for example, "to be able to run 2km without being short of breath" or "to lose 3 kilograms in three months" or "to save 10% of my income each week." Already, you have a much better idea not only of what you need to do, but how you need to get there.
2. Peer support is a mixed bag. While sharing your goal with others can make you more accountable, be wary of the false sense of achievement – and subsequent complacency – that can come with it. If you tell your friends that you will run a half marathon, you are likely to bask in their awe and congratulations before you've even laced up your running shoes. Think carefully about whom you share your goal with.
3. Make it personal. Sure, gaining a promotion might sound like an impressive thing to be working towards, but is it really what you want right now? What about those dancing lessons you've always secretly wanted to take, or the pile of books you've still not read? Be sure to choose a resolution that you really want to achieve, and if it's the same promise you make every year, ask yourself why you haven't gotten there yet – maybe it's just not the right one for you.
4. Scale it back. Big, sweeping goals are exciting and inspiring, but can quickly become overwhelming. Want to give up alcohol? Although the grand gesture of tipping it all down the sink on the first day might feel good, large lifestyle changes simply aren't as sustainable as gradual ones. You've got a whole year to achieve your new goal, so take it slowly.
5. Finally, keep it fun! If you're not looking forward to your goal, whether that be spending less money or hitting the gym, find ways to enjoy yourself in the process or to reward yourself when you're done. A New Year's Resolution should be exciting, inspiring and personal, but don't let it get in the way of enjoying yourself as you pin up a new calendar and look to the year ahead. Happy New Year!