Do you make resolutions, goals or neither? The turn of the clock into the New Year provides the opportunity for us to reflect on where we are and where we’d like to go in order to improve our lives. The desire to get off to a good start is likely what motivates many of us to make New Year’s resolutions and goals. Yet, when I ask my friends and peers whether or not they make resolutions or set goals at the New Year, almost all (except my soul brother Jack) say they do NOT.
Common “wisdom” is that resolutions do not work. But why is that? To have “resolve” connotes a dogged determination and grit that requires vigilance. Sustaining this level of motivation is exhausting since it requires steely willpower. This is the crux of the problem. Research on “will power” shows that we have limited reserves (https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower-limited-resource.pdf). A resolution is a “firm decision to do or not do something”; however, these do not provide a road map on how to do it and it does not address the why of what we resolve to do. Many of us have made resolutions in the past that we’ve failed to achieve, so we stop trying to improve ourselves in this way. I speculate that the reason many people eschew goals is that they conflate them with resolutions.
Goals, unlike resolutions, create a road map to the aspired destination. I ritually write down my goals every New Year and I am happy to report that all the big things I have achieved are a result of these written goals. A well written goal, with follow-up action steps, is an effective tool in achieving what we aspire to. SMART is the acronym for writing effective goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable and Timely. A resolution may be “to loose weight”. A goal to achieve the same outcome would be “to exercise 45 minutes/day, 5x/week and reduce daily caloric intake by 250 calories in order to loose 10 lbs by April 1st”. The devil is in the attention to these measurable details.
But even with the most detailed goals, obstacles along the road can detour our achieving these goals. The ancient Indian sage, Patanjali, wrote about these “antarayas”/obstacles over 1600 years ago, naming nine: illness, lethargy, doubt, haste or impatience, resignation or fatigue, distraction, ignorance or arrogance, inability to take a new step and loss of confidence.