Opinions: One bite at a time

Most New Year’s resolutions fail but there’s a way to beat the odds


The new year has begun and with it, the stampede at the gym, the chiming of “new year, new me” and the age-old tradition of the New Year’s Resolution. And I do mean old: according to a 2015 article from History, “the ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago.”

So it seems like everyone, myself included, is compelled each Jan. 1 to compile a list of lofty goals towards self-improvement. But how effective are they? According to a 2013 Forbes article, not very. Forbes quotes research done by Scranton University that found only eight per cent of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions. With those abysmal numbers it looks like the smartest option would be to throw in the towel, eat the cake, and call it a day. For those who are halfheartedly making these resolutions simply because they feel traditionally compelled, I urge you to just stop and occupy your mind with more pleasant things.

But for the percentage of “resolute” people who genuinely want to be in the eight per cent, there is hope. If resolutions are approached strategically, they can be doable. The research seems to follow the ancient advice on how to eat an elephant – one bite at a time. The first bite is looking at what not to do.

There are some underlying problems with the resolutions we make, and according to Rohit Arora of Small Business Trends, one of them is that the resolutions aren’t realistic. For example, it’s unlikely you’re going to run the Boston Marathon this year if you’ve never even run a 5k. Set your sights on something smaller, and each successful completion of a small goal will build momentum that can help you eventually achieve that drunken lofty New Year’s resolution.

Another problem is that humans have short attention spans. This lack of attention also translates to motivation and applies to resolutions. For most people, 365 days is a long ways away, which is why Arora recommends setting monthly goals instead of yearly.

Lastly, New Year’s resolutions have got to be some of the vaguest attempts at a goal ever. “I want to workout more” or “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to save money” are just nice ways of saying “I want to have a resolution that sounds good without me actually having to do anything.” Because as many of us know, for goals to be achieved they have to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.

If your goal is to save money, you’ll have more success if you use the acronym. So instead of saying “I want to save money” try something like “I want to save $1,000 in six months for my trip to Europe.” Then, as Arora advised, it’s best if you cut that goal into monthly chunks. Assuming you had consistent income, you could simply divide 1,000 by six, and then you just have to save $167 every month to get to $1,000. This also comes back to the attainable part of SMART, because our goals can seem large and intimidating and too far off to stay motivated for long.

Two last pieces of advice: if you really want to accomplish something, start now. Don’t wait for a special day to do it, just start. Lastly, look at your goals and resolutions as works in progress rather than end goals. Reaching a goal isn’t about perfectly following steps, it’s about the messy progress with ups and downs. A tiny flawed improvement is better than a day-dreamed perfect achievement. A small bite of the elephant will always be more of an accomplishment than imagining you’ve finished in your head.

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