Are New Year’s resolutions actually helpful? 

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Many people celebrate New Year’s Day with New Year’s resolutions, but a candid evaluation of the past year may be more meaningful. SMART goals motivated by the need for change may be a more effective approach to making life changes in the new year. 

It is that time of year again when people start reflecting on their past year and creating resolutions. Resolutions can involve many kinds of changes, from cutting sugar out of a diet to reading more books. Many people do not actually complete their resolutions, though! Fisher Business College at Ohio State University reports that only 9% of people actually follow through with their New Year’s resolutions. While resolutions may not be effective all on their own, they do have their time and place. But for other changes, resolutions made in early January might not initiate the change needed. 

Positive change will positively impact a person’s life, even if the change is for a short time. An increase in exercise for a short period of time is not as effective or helpful as exercising over several months, but it is better than being completely sedentary. In this way, resolutions can lead to small changes, or help people realize that long-term change may be beneficial. Positive changes can lead to a habit if people set aside time and have a plan for their habit.  

When resolutions are not followed through on, it leads to dissatisfaction later that year, and they can be damaging instead of beneficial. Resolutions are different than altering habits, and some resolutions may be pretty ambitious. This makes following through very difficult and can lead to negative feelings towards oneself if expectations are not met. For those who are struggling with a bad habit, New Year’s may not be the time to set a resolution because of this.  

If someone does decide to set a New Year’s resolution, it may be more effective to set a resolution based on something they are already actively trying to change. Fisher Business College says that “Goals should start at a time of change?or need for change.” Motivation often comes from a need for a change instead of just a small improvement in quality of life. Setting resolutions as a tradition may not result in positive outcomes. 

Another way to approach New Year’s resolutions is to set SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. These goals are more realistic than vague goals, such as “I want to exercise more.” SMART goals have built-in ways to help you achieve the goal you want to meet during the new year. Along with setting SMART goals, having weekly check-ins for goals may also help people meet their goals consistently, though that does require some of the motivation typically created by the need for change.  

The New Year’s time may be a convenient marker to evaluate the past year, looking at stressors, positive and negative relationships, and other important aspects of life, such as spirituality and work-life balance. These evaluations do not have to lead to resolutions immediately but may lead to slower changes based on life satisfaction.  

This year, consider making resolutions only if they will be helpful! Evaluations and goals may be a better approach to long-lasting changes than a resolution made for tradition. Allow the need for change to be motivational instead of the end of the year!