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New Year, new you… right? Making resolutions and setting goals for the upcoming year is one of our most time-honored annual traditions — and yet, it’s not the magic of the season that inspires us to keep them.
So what makes the difference, and what does it really take to make this year different than last year? Here are the most popular goals people set each year, some New Year’s resolution ideas you may not have thought of, and tips on how to keep them.
What are New Year’s resolutions?
New Year’s resolutions are the determinations, or goals, that we set ceremoniously at the beginning of every year. The New Year traditionally represents a fresh start, giving each person the opportunity to leave old habits behind and redetermine how we want things to go moving forward.
Resolutions aren't quite the same as a to-do list — although many people feel that New Year's is the perfect time to tackle lingering tasks. It's more like a "to-be" list. Even if your list of resolutions includes specific things to cross off (which is a good thing), they tend to be more centered around self-improvement and personal growth.
The practice of New Year’s resolutions might be one of our longest-running traditions. History credits the Babylonians with making the first annual resolutions each year as a part of a twelve-day ceremony. If they kept to their word (often, a promise to honor the new ruler and pay off their debts) they would be rewarded with good favor.
Four thousand years later, many of us are still resolving to make this year the one that we get out of debt, quit bad habits, and change our lives for the better. Unfortunately, failing to keep our New Year’s resolutions is almost as much of a tradition as making them. A study of holiday goal-setters reveals that just 19% of people keep even some of their resolutions, and only 7% keep all of them. Most people have given up or even forgotten their goals by February.
Do New Year resolutions work?
So if most people don’t even keep New Year’s resolutions, why bother making them? What’s kept people resolving to change for the last four thousand years? The fact is, life would be pretty sad and boring if we didn’t hope for anything new. Making goals is part of what keeps things interesting. And even when we don’t accomplish everything on the list, making goals is beneficial for you even when you don’t reach them. In fact, sometimes what we think of as failure actually teaches us resilience and helps us to grow in unexpected ways.
So yes, New Year’s resolutions work — even when you don’t keep them all. As the saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you hit nothing.” Goal setting tends to help you build momentum and keep you more focused as you pursue personal growth.
What are the most common New Year’s resolutions?
According to a survey done by Statista, more than half of Americans make goals related to weight loss or eating habits each year. Another large percentage of respondents set career or financial goals. And another group focused on personal goals, like renovating their homes, spending more time with their loved ones, or cutting back on social media.
As you can see, there’s a wide range of New Year’s resolutions out there, but they all have one thing in common — they have to be personally meaningful. A good New Year's resolution is one that resonates with what you want for your life. It will keep you motivated to work towards them, even when you don’t feel like it.
What makes change happen?
Psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed the transtheoretical model of behavior change while studying addictive behaviors. Published in the 1980s, the model identifies six stages of change a person goes through in order to successfully start a new habit (or break an old one). The steps include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination or relapse.
At this point, you haven’t even started to consider making a change. You’re happy with the way things are, or at least comfortable enough that you’re not interested in the effort change would take.
In the second stage, you start thinking about what it would take to change. You might identify what’s standing in the way, or go back and forth about whether change is worth it.
During preparation, you begin to educate yourself and start “flirting” with change. You might buy a book, read blogs, or research professional support (for example, coaches, doctors, or classes).
Action is what it sounds like — taking concrete, intentional steps in line with the change you want to make. Interestingly enough, this is where most unsuccessful changes start. Without spending enough time in the previous stages, resolutions fail. People tend to lack the foundation needed to maintain the new behavior.
In stage five, you learn how to continue your behavior for the long haul. As the new change takes root, people develop confidence in their ability to continue the new behavior and resist temptation.
6. Termination or Relapse
The original model called the sixth stage termination, which is when the new behavior is solidified and there’s no desire to return to the previous state. The habit is easier to maintain than it is to break. In relapse, however, people “fall off the wagon,” so to speak. They can re-establish the new behavior as long as they don’t get discouraged by the temporary setback.
According to this model, the most important phase is everything that leads up to taking action. If you have a solid plan for moving forward, anchored by intrinsic motivation to change, you’re likely to be successful.
5 tips to keep your New Year’s resolutions
So what makes New Year’s resolutions successful — and how do you choose the right ones? Here are some ideas to start your resolutions on the right track:
1. Start small
Sweeping changes can be overwhelming and hard to keep track of. And big, vague goals tend to be less motivating. Your goals for the new year should be specific and measurable. When you pick a few small, meaningful goals that are in line with your bigger commitments, you tend to make more progress — and feel more energized in the process.
2. Recruit a friend
Most of the resolutions people set for the new year tend to fall into one of three categories: physical health, finances, or lifestyle changes (like journaling or watching less TV). That means that you probably already know someone who’s creating a new habit in the same area. Ask them to partner with you to keep you accountable and motivated.
3. Create a strategy
Of the stages leading up to taking action, preparation might have the biggest impact on how well your new habits stick. Determine what you’ll need to keep to your new habits. You might also want to consider where you’re the most likely to get off-track, and create contingency plans just in case you do.
4. Don’t make perfection the goal
Nobody’s perfect, and when it comes to changes, progress is better than perfection. It's hard to start doing something perfectly, 100% of the time, when you start something new. Aim for a gradual increase. For example, instead of deciding to meditate every day when you’ve never tried it, start with three days a week for ten minutes each time.
5. Write it down
Science says that writing down your goals is key to making them happen — and for good reason. Not only are you more likely to remember it, but your brain is also more likely to flag the information as important. That’s key, since it’s going to be a lot harder to accomplish (and celebrate) a milestone you don’t remember. Once it's written down, you can check in on your progress (and, best of all, cross things off when they're done!)
22+ New Year’s resolution ideas for 2022
No matter what area you’re working on (or how many times you tried to tackle it in the past), you can make progress on your goals this year. And part of that means taking care of your best, most valuable asset — you. Here are some New Year’s resolution ideas that will help you grow personally, professionally, and everything in-between.
New year’s resolution ideas for self-care
1. Drink more water
What we eat and drink has an impact on everything, from our energy levels to our concentration. Many symptoms of dehydration mimic anxiety, so it’s crucial for your well-being and mood to drink enough water.
2. Talk to a sleep coach
Need to fix your sleep schedule? In addition to professional development, BetterUp offers specialist coaching for sleep, nutrition, working parents, and more. Sleep is one of the most important investments you can make in both your physical wellness and performance at work.
3. Find a fitness program that you love
Exercise is proven to impact our mood, focus, and creativity. All movement is good movement, so choose something that excites you. It could be walking every day, a high-intensity workout, or even a virtual yoga class.
4. Try a digital detox
Between work, leisure, and social media, most of us get more screen time than we’d like. Try giving your brain (and your eyes) a rest by taking some analog time. This could be a whole day off-line, but even short breaks throughout the day have health benefits.
5. Make time to see your loved ones
Social connection is important for our mental and emotional health. Make time at least once a week to connect with a friend or family member, just to say hi.
New year’s resolution ideas to support Inner Work®
6. Start a mindfulness practice
Meditation has numerous (evidence-backed!) benefits, but it’s okay if that’s not your thing. You can try breathwork, walking meditation, or even movement practices like yoga. Even coloring is a great way to practice staying present.
7. Figure out what fills your cup
A big part of Inner Work® is learning what reignites your passion and excitement. Think about the kinds of activities you loved as a child. What would you do for fun? What makes you feel more energized?
8. Prioritize your mental fitness
Just as health is about more than just “not being sick,” mental fitness is more than the absence of mental illness. Take time to build your mental fitness. Take care of your well-being. Engage in activities like reading and learning something new. And be proactive about managing burnout and your mental health.
9. Take an Inner Work® day
Create time to engage in the internal work that makes you better and builds mental fitness — it’s an important part of sustaining the external work that gets you paid. Consider dedicating at least a couple of hours a week (and at least one day a quarter) to your Inner Work®.
10. Get a coach
After over a million coaching sessions, we learned that the foundation skill for all personal development is the ability to self-reflect. Fortunately, that’s the first skill you build when working with a coach. Coaching can make a huge difference in your professional life, but can also provide the feedback and support you need to grow personally as well.
New year’s resolutions for professional growth
11. Take a class
Most industries require continuing education — and for good reason. Learning something new (even if it’s in a field that you’re very familiar with) is great for your cognitive agility and can even help reinvigorate your passion.
12. Create a 5-year plan
As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” The new year can be a great time to create your 5-year plan — or update an existing one. If you’re stuck on creating this year’s goals, working backwards from where you’d like to be in five years can give you a clearer picture.
13. Ask for feedback
In order to grow and improve, you have to know what to work on. Unfortunately, many of us are uncomfortable asking for — and receiving — feedback. Learning to handle feedback effectively can catapult you years ahead in your professional development.
14. Re-evaluate your goals
Do you have a vision statement, list of goals, or planner from last year? Take it out and blow the dust off of it. Ask yourself, “Are these goals important to the person you are becoming?” Many times, we chase goals that were important to us at some point in our lives, only to realize that we’re no longer interested in pursuing them.
15. Go somewhere new
If you’re looking to challenge yourself professionally, you don’t have to create a new role or change where you work to change where you work. Travel can be a personally and professionally invigorating experience. Apply for an international transfer, take a business trip, or try out a week as a digital nomad.
New year’s resolutions for productivity
16. Take a break
It may sound counterintuitive, but taking time away from your work can actually make you more productive. Your brain actually does quite a bit of important work while at rest. Try using the Pomodoro method (working for 25 minutes with five-minute breaks).
17. Block your time
Time blocking can reduce the cognitive load of switching from task to task — because, as it turns out, multitasking doesn’t really work. Try shifting your most intensive or creative work to early in the day, and keep meetings to specific times or days of the week.
18. Cancel a meeting
For many of us, meetings can feel draining — and that’s especially true when they’re all online. Could that upcoming appointment actually fit into an email? If so, give yourself some time back by canceling a meeting altogether (read: cancel, don’t reschedule). Trust me, the other participants probably won’t mind.
19. Clear off your desk
Clutter tends to make us anxious, even if we’re not aware of its effect. And not being able to find what you need when you need it is just plain frustrating. Invest in your future productivity by clearing off and organizing your workspace. Your digital desktop might benefit from some decluttering too.
Stuck on a challenge or project? Get moving. Physical activity can help us be more creative, energized, and motivated at work. Try turning one of your meetings or brainstorming sessions into a walking meeting.
New year’s resolution ideas that give back
21. Make one small change
Is there something you want to do or change, but you’re not ready to tackle it all at once? Take a small step instead. For example, if you’re concerned about the environment, try swapping out plastic straws for reusable, metal ones.
22. Pledge 1%
Companies across the world (including BetterUp) are committing to social impact by donating 1% of their equity, staff time, product, or profit to their communities. Even if you don’t own a business, you can pledge to spend 1% of your time, money, or other resources in support of a cause that matters to you.
23. Give something away
New Year’s Day marks the end of the winter holiday season, which is traditionally marked with lots of food and gifts. Make the most of this goodwill and share what you can with someone who would appreciate a gift. Often, the most valuable contributions you can make don’t cost anything at all.
24. Become a mentor
Whether you volunteer for a mentorship organization or informally take a new colleague under your wing, becoming a mentor is often a rewarding experience for both parties. You’ll get to support someone else in their career, and might even impress yourself with how much you know.
25. Random acts of kindness
Want to rewire your brain for gratitude? Create a kindness habit. Take on a kindness challenge and do something for others every day. You might find that this becomes the easiest resolution to keep.
Above all else, there are two things you need to remember when setting your New Year’s resolutions. The first is that you don’t have to tackle everything at once. Even if it feels like you have a lot to work on, chances are good that you’ve accomplished a lot already — and if nothing else changed, you’d still be pretty great. Pick one thing that empowers you and make progress on it — not because you have to, but because you want to.
The second is that you don’t have to do it alone. Friends, therapists, family, and mentors are all excellent sources of inspiration and support. If you’re ready for professional insight and accountability, reach out to BetterUp to schedule a coaching session. No matter what your resolution — or what time of year it is — we can help you gain clarity and achieve sustainable results.
BetterUp Staff Writer