New Year’s: Resolutions or Goals?
It’s the time of year when starting anew and releasing what no longer serves you is a popular topic. What’s truly better, though: setting New Year’s resolutions or establishing a series of goals without that particular label?
Why the New Year?
A specific day on the calendar really shouldn’t dictate changes you want to make. Yet the practice of setting resolutions at the start of each new year dates back centuries.
History.com reports that a form of resolutions may have started more than 4,000 years ago with the Babylonians in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). However, their new year actually started in mid-March, closer to planting season. Promises made to the gods were to amend certain behaviors, return objects previously borrowed, and pay off debts.
Julius Caesar adjusted the Roman calendar so the new year started on January 1 in honor of Janus, the two-faced god. “Believing that Janus symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year,” History indicates. Although Western society uses the Gregorian calendar today, January 1 still obviously has significance.
However, various cultures celebrate the beginning of a new year differently. For example, the Chinese Lunar New Year or spring festival is in February. People of the Jewish faith observe Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year usually in September.
So regardless of date, millions of people assign particular significance to the symbolism of renewal in the new year. Technically, this means you don’t have to change everything at once on January 1.
Resolutions or Goals: Which Are Better?
Although more than half of all Americans create resolutions in January, only about 10 percent are still going strong in February. Why is this? Mental health experts believe it usually has to do with the “do this” or “don’t do this” resolutions framework. Many people strive to go all in on a massive change, rather than create incremental steps toward lasting change.
Here are some of the most common resolutions, year after year, according to Statistica:
- Improve fitness/do more exercising
- Lose weight
- Save more money
- Eat more healthy/improve diet
- Pursue a career ambition
Others pop up too, such as quit smoking, spend less time on social media, and curb or stop drinking.
It’s always a good idea to take the initiative for better wellness. But for a variety of reasons, resolutions can be hard to follow. In an interview with Business Insider, psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert said the top three reasons resolutions often fail include:
- “People often don’t make their resolutions specific enough.”
- “They’re worded too negatively.”
- “They’re not relevant to the individual.”
So, instead of focusing on big resolutions this year that may only set you up for failure, think smaller: follow a series of micro-goals.
Find More Success With Micro-Goals
According to the therapy site Talkspace, micro-goals “break down the large task into manageable, bite-sized parts. Rather than thinking about nailing that big-picture accomplishment, stay focused on achieving small nuggets of progress and go after them one tiny increment at a time.”
Talkspace references studies that indicate with each micro-goal completed, your brain registers them as wins and gives you a rewarding boost of dopamine, one of our natural “feel-good” chemicals. As you continue to accumulate these incremental successes and include them in your usual routines and rituals, your happiness increases. “It doesn’t matter if you’re working toward a major scientific breakthrough or simply want to make strides toward living a healthier life, tiny wins can make a big difference in how you feel and perform,” Talkspace says.
So let’s say your resolution this year is: “I want to manage my anxiety and depression more effectively.” The following micro-goals might help:
Start a conversation about better mental health treatment. This might mean going to a professional for the first time, talking with your current provider about a different approach or medication, or even going to a behavioral health center for more in-depth, whole-person care. Progressive first steps like these now lead to more wins in the future.
Change a small habit first. Here’s just one example. Maybe you miss out on quality sleep because of a nighttime loop of doom-scrolling social media. Micro-goals help you alter this behavior:
- Write on a sticky note “I will shut off all electronics one hour before bedtime.”
- Set a reminder on your smartphone or tablet that it’s time to power down.
- After the reminder, listen to mellow music, read a paper book or magazine, work on an art project or hobby, or do something else that signals your body and mind it’s time for rest. Each morning, put a star on your calendar for completion.
- Develop a weekly check-in to reflect on how you feel. Effectively changing a habit requires approximately 66 days, or 9 weeks.
Be curious about holistic options for better mental and physical health. Each week, try something new, such as one yoga class, a guided meditation podcast, and so on. After each attempt, reflect on how you feel, then start the cycle again with different options.
Each type of micro-goal gives you an opportunity to advance through layers and get closer to success.
More Self-Exploration with Help From Cottonwood
Any time of year is perfect for bringing out your best. We’d be honored to help. Please review our other blog articles for ideas to better your wellness.