After the merriment has been made and gifts have been exchanged, the end of the year becomes a time of reflection and renewal. We evaluate the prior year: think about what went right, what went wrong, and everything in between. Combine that with a few days away from the office (perhaps a quiet moment on the couch with your brand-new throw) and that little voice starts to whisper, “Maybe this year can be different; maybe I can be different.” Then she gets louder: “No! I can be amazing this year!”
It is easy to be seduced by the promise of (yet another) New Year only to be disappointed come April. Don’t let past failures dissuade you from letting this be your year—after all, resolutions are just goals with a little holiday flair, and the principles of goal setting are simple. This year, when you hear that little voice, stick to the following principles to make the most of your resolutions and enable lasting change.
Set Goals That Are Specific, Realistic, And Measurable.
While “take better care of myself” is a lovely thought, it is much easier to measure progress if you pledge to spend at least 60 minutes each week in a leisure activity you love. Instead of pledging to “be healthier,” set a goal of exercising five times per week for 30 minutes.
Choose Goals With Broad Impact.
It is tempting to try to compartmentalize and focus on one area at a time—“I really need to focus on my career right now; I’ll get to my personal life next year.” A better approach is to make resolutions that simultaneously enhance multiple areas of your life. For example, resolving to live in the moment can enhance your life personally and professionally.
Work Toward Goals That Align With Your Values.
Your energy and time are precious and finite resources. If you are crafting resolutions that are not in line with your values, you’ll be less motivated to work toward them. More importantly, achieving them won’t feel particularly good. Evaluate your goals and prioritize those that are in sync with what is most important to you.
Don’t Overdo It.
Many of us are already spread too thin; don’t add to the stress by piling on resolutions. Focus your energy on no more than two to three goals at a time. Rank your resolutions in order of importance (keeping in mind the above). Start the year with a few; you can always hold the others and reassess midyear.
Kristen Carpenter, PhD, is director of Women’s Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral health, psychology, and obstetrics and gynecology at The Ohio State University. Her clinical work and research focus on improving sexual and psychological health among women.