Rethinking Resolutions

As we have entered the third month of the new year, studies are back in full motion, scheduled Zoom meetings are piling up in our calendars, and deadlines are approaching fast. One may be thinking back to the resolutions that were made when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, and when the turbulent year of 2020 was finally left behind. Whether you set smaller goals for yourself such as attaining a better grade on your next task, or larger ones such as an aspiring fitness target, perhaps those ambitions are already receding behind a horizon of assignments, exams and other responsibilities. This is the time when motivation to stick to New Year’s goals is critical.

Statistics show that four out of five people have already given up on one or more of their resolutions only halfway into the month of February.

Why is this the case, and why do so many resolutions fail? What can we do to create more sustainable long-term goals?

Why do Resolutions Fail?

There are numerous reasons behind falling short on your goals. Most of the time, goals aren’t met simply because they are not specific enough. Setting goals that are too grand, too open-ended and too hard to track the progress of will be substantially more difficult to achieve. There can also be a certain pressure that comes with forming resolutions, and the idea of pursuing them just because the tradition dictates it. It can even be intimidating because it feels like you need to remodel your entire life overnight, and this is not the greatest of strategies if you are already consumed by multiple habits that you are trying to improve on. Even though New Year’s is naturally associated with creating goals for the coming year and the “new year, new me” philosophy, certain goals may be unfitting to impose then and there. According to research done by several psychologists, you are better off setting a goal when your mind is fully committed to making it a reality, not when you feel like it is a mandatory “chore-like” activity. Sometimes, however, it isn’t necessarily sticking to our New Year’s resolutions that is the main problem, but even just getting started on them.

Procrastination Plays a Part 

As “master procrastinator” Tim Urban stated while speaking at a Ted Talk convention, “the frustration is not that you can’t achieve your dreams, it is that you aren’t even able to start chasing them!”. Procrastination is a word that does not sit well with a lot of students. The process of delaying action-taking on work, until a sense of urgency based on a time-constraint arrives, is an issue that well over 80% of university students have said that they regularly struggle with. If you are reading this article as a university student, you might associate quite well with it, and perhaps you are delaying work right now by browsing through Lundtan’s homepage.

Procrastination can also be a factor in certain resolutions not materializing because of how we postpone action-taking. Some people intentionally delay work until the last minute because it gives them a sense of extra motivation and challenge, which can enhance productivity. However, in terms of acting on long-term goals and objectives, procrastination can stem from being overwhelmed with the process in front of you, not knowing where to start, or not having the willpower to get moving.

With long-term goals such as resolutions, we also feel that we have plenty of time to get started. As a result, we may end up prioritising our current needs, wants and desires over effectively managing and planning our time. This is also enforced through instant gratification. Although a very natural instinct, instant gratification has become more problematic in today’s world where dopamine hits are just a click away. Patience levels have eroded with our increased access to instantaneous information flows, and the “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops”, as the former Vice President of User Growth at Facebook stated, are creating unhealthy subconscious needs to constantly check our notifications, alerts and messages. Many times we find ourselves distracted by this, which often contributes to delaying on taking action towards objectives that require patience. 

Creating More Sustainable Goals

Despite some gloomy statistics on the success rate regarding New Year’s goals and how procrastination can be an annoying hurdle to overcome, there are ways that we can rethink resolutions in order to create more long-lasting goals. It goes without saying that having goals is a vital part of our daily lives. It provides us with focus, motivation and drive which contributes to a feeling of purpose and self-mastery. There are numerous ways that resolutions can be better constructed.

  1. First of all, breaking goals down into smaller, more attainable targets and establishing a “goal hierarchy” is an effective tactic. This places more emphasis on the actual actions and steps required to attain the desired outcome, and not on the end result itself. By dividing a larger goal into smaller targets, not only is it easier to track your progress, but you also allow yourself to celebrate the small wins along the way.
  2. Tracking progress in itself is a significantly more efficient way of committing to a resolution. It quantifies efforts that have been taken, making it easier to determine what has been working so far, if there is something that hasn’t been working, and how much there is left to do. It is also satisfying to be able to look back on your own progress and see how far you’ve come, which can be a source of motivation to strive for the finish line.
  3. Even something as simple as writing goals down on paper can actually make them more likely of becoming a reality. According to studies, you are 42% more likely to attain a goal just by having it written down.
  4. Keeping in mind why you set a certain target for yourself is also very important. Instead of constantly thinking about what it is you have to do and any challenges associated with it, remind yourself about the reason you set out to attain this objective. This is especially crucial in tougher times when quitting feels like the comfortable option.

It goes without saying that patience and self-discipline along the way to achieving your goals is key.  Challenges will arise which can put your determination to the test, but as Michael Jordan once advised, “obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it”.

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