Re-examining New Year’s Resolutions

Well I hope everyone had a good Christmas, Hanukah, or whatever your preferred holiday is. I had to work, but had a good meal afterward and then watched a live recorded version of Much Ado About Nothing – maybe it wasn’t traditional holiday watching material, but it was funny. Now we’re less than a week from the new year, and it got me thinking about resolutions.

In the past, New Year’s resolutions never worked for me. When I’ve tried making big changes in my life, I’ve made the mistake of saying “I’m changing this, starting right now, and I’ll be doing it forever”. Like with exercising or dieting for instance. But forever is a long time. I would easily get discouraged, usually just a few days or a week into the new regime when the change was the hardest to maintain, and then I’d stop. One moment of wavering was all it took, and my progress was kaput. And after that, it made it very hard to get back on the wagon again.

I was setting myself up for failure with this kind of mindset. When I looked at how long ‘forever’ was, and how difficult the task I was trying to do was, it seemed impossible to pull it off successfully. I was my own worst enemy. But then I discovered a way to make big changes seem a lot smaller, and easier to make.

Instead of the traditional resolution that focuses on change for a full year, instead try committing for only 30 days, kind of like a trial. This method works best for things that you will be doing on a daily or near daily basis, like changes to diet, or a change in sleep schedule. For me, this improved my success rate considerably. During those rough points early on, remind yourself that it’s only for 30 days. Having a time limit at which point you can stop doing whatever the task your trying to do will make it easier to push through those rough periods early on.

First, set the terms of your goal in advance, and make them something that’s easily measured. For instance, saying you’re going to ‘eat better’ isn’t going to work well because it’s not specific enough to know if your succeeding at it or not. On the other hand, saying that you’ll only eat out once a week makes it easy to track your progress and very clear whether you’re sticking to the goal.

It’s important during those first 30 days not to change the conditions. If your proposed new habit is to do 15 situps before going to work each day, and then during those first 30 days you discover that 15 situps every day is just too time consuming and decide to only do 10, you’re starting down a slippery slope. Make this change now, and it might seem okay to continue downsizing the goal later on. Continually changing it won’t make it a habit.

But it’s true also that you want to set a goal that you can realistically achieve. If you can’t do 15 situps, setting that as a goal would be a bad idea. In order to get a realistic view of what is or isn’t possible for you, before the start of the 30 day trial, try running your proposed change a couple times, to make sure that it will really work for you.

Once you get to the end of the 30 days, stop and evaluate the change you’ve made. Are you pleased with the results or not? If you are pleased with the results, you’ve now made the change a habit, and it should be much easier to continue doing it. Congratulations, you’ve tricked yourself into doing it ‘forever’ without having to commit to forever. At this point, if you find that you’re not satisfied with the results, then go ahead and make changes, and run the trial again. Or, if it really isn’t working out, go ahead and stop. You shouldn’t be feeling guilty, because the original terms were only for 30 days and you did meet that.

Using this method, I successfully stopped consuming soda and caffeinated beverages of all sorts for a month. Before the trail, I drank soda on a daily basis. Pepsi and Mountain Dew were my favorites. I’d take a can to work for lunch every day, and usually have another when I got home. Every time I went out to eat I’d have soda, and I’d indulge in Mocha Frappuccinos at Starbucks more often than I should have. It was costing me a fair bit of money, and was horrible for my teeth (and probably the rest of me as well).

At the end of the trail, I looked back over my results. First of all, I felt great, because I had accomplished something that hadn’t seemed possible. I had grown up drinking soda after all, my parents made us kids drink milk at meal times, but they always had soda around that we could drink at other times.

For some people who quit drinking soda, if they try again afterward it tastes bad to them and they can’t stand it. For me it wasn’t like that, I still like soda and frappuccinos, so at the end of the trial I made a few changes. My roomie and I currently keep a 12 pack of soda in the house, but we only drink one can on Sundays, during our online D&D game (yes, I’m a geek – moving on). When getting fast food I usually get soda, because it’s included in the price and most places won’t give you a discount if you ask for water instead. On the other hand, at sit down restaurants I usually don’t get soda now, since it’s typically $1.99 extra and I rarely ever finish one glass, so it’s not very cost effective.

This is also how I stopped using shampoo and conditioner in an effort to conserve water once I’m RVing. Now I use baking soda about twice a week and apple cider vinegar about once a week, really saves on showering time.

As handy as this approach is, it won’t work well for all changes. Things that you don’t do on a daily or near daily basis for instance will probably require more time to make a habit. I took up jogging last August and since that is only a 3 times a week thing I went about it in a different way. But if you’re looking for an easier way to make some changes in 2012, go ahead and give this a shot.

Do you have your own special way of setting up New Year’s Resolutions? If so, I’d like to hear about it. Oh, and one other very important question: is it ‘soda’ or a ‘pop’ to you?

Image courtesy of  Sarah_Ackerman

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Carolyn on December 27, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Enjoyed the article.

    I don’t make resolutions.

    I say “pop”. 🙂

    • Becky on December 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm

      Heya Carolyn. I’m thinking the soda vs. pop debate is geographical in nature, people from the same area generally call it the same thing, but I’m not sure so that’s why I asked. 😛 I’m from Wisconsin and where I was growing up it was soda pretty unanimously.

      Anyway, glad you like the article.

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