New Year’s Day seems like the perfect time to begin anew. The world is celebrating, emotions are high, and the very earth is poised to bloom into renewed life over the next few months. Most of us ride the wave and make a few resolutions, promising ourselves that we’re going to get out of debt, lose weight, or simply reinvent ourselves.
And by mid-February, we fail. We forget those promises. Over the next months, flowers bloom and the trees spring to life, but we’re left in that same cold winter of the status quo all year round.
The making of New Year’s resolutions is an old habit of the human race, extending all the way back to the ancient Babylonians, who were making resolutions about 4,000 years ago. They made promises to their gods to pay off debts and returned borrowed items—promises that, if kept, were thought to curry favor with the gods in the coming year.
There’s a reason we’ve been making resolutions for so long. The very nature of celebrating the New Year brings our faults to the forefront. The season is changing, the year is turning, and the feeling of transience reminds us that we have a chance to begin again.
Resolutions are a way of erasing the mistakes of the past through the promise of a better future.
But despite having 4,000 years of practice, we’re abysmally bad at keeping these promises to ourselves. While 41 percent of Americans make a habit of laying out New Year’s resolutions, only 9.2 keep them.
But why is that? Why do we continually make the same promises to ourselves year after year, only to fail time and again?
The reason is simple: we’re confining our efforts to change to one day a year.
Humans are creatures of habit and hope. We get caught up in the motivating emotion of the New Year, thinking we can do anything. We make promises, intending to keep them. But when that emotion and revelry wears off, our motivation disappears. We stop going to the gym. We start overspending again.
So what’s the trick to sticking to our guns throughout the entirety of the year rather than fizzling out in February?
We need self-discipline.
Consider this. There are two types of writers—professionals and amateurs. Amateur writers have only a fraction of the output of the pros. Why?
Because they wait for inspiration to strike. They sit and stare out the window, awaiting the romance and intrigue of that Perfect Moment—that instant when the rays of sunlight alight just right, when a swarm of butterflies swirl past, when the clouds arrange themselves into sacred shapes.
In other words, they do nothing.
Professional writers, on the other hand, work constantly. They place posteriors on seats and set fingers to keyboards. They don’t need the euphoric emotion of the Perfect Moment. For them, every moment is the Perfect Moment, because they’re not running on emotion; they’re running on discipline.
Resolution makers are those amateur writers, working only in the heat of the moment, and then stopping as soon as it’s over.
Don’t be an amateur resolution-maker. Be a pro. Here’s what you can do instead.
Make Goals Year-Round
Don’t confine your major goal-making to New Year’s Day. When you see a need in your life, make a promise to yourself to fill it.
That means, if you notice that your pile of debt is beginning to get out of control around mid-year, make a July resolution. If you start putting on some Thanksgiving pounds, make a November resolution.
Make these resolutions with the same fervor and sincerity that you would feel on New Year’s Day. Remember—every month, every day, every hour, and every breath is a new beginning.
Take advantage of them all.
Rely on Discipline
The biggest mistake most resolution-makers make is relying on emotions to motivate them.
Emotions are mercurial. They change and flow like sand dunes in the wind. Would you build your house on a foundation of sand?
No—you wouldn’t. You’d build it on solid rock. And what’s more solid than an iron will?
Willpower is a muscle like any other—it can be weakened through disuse, or strengthened through regular practice. And the product of a strong will is self-discipline, which is the factor that will have you keeping your resolutions past the dreaded February mark and on through the rest of the year—for the rest of your life, in fact.
Discipline helps you intentionally build good habits, and good habits build good lifestyles. Emotion alone cannot do this for you.
Start With Small, Well-Defined Goals
The best way to initially build self-discipline is to set small, easily-attainable goals. Whether you want to lose weight or become more socially active or learn how to repair your car, start small.
Once you make a habit of making small promises to yourself and keeping them, you can move on to bigger and better things.
A great way to ensure you keep these promises is to make them well-defined. Don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to lose weight.” That could mean anything, and the concept of anything is paralyzing.
Instead, tell yourself that you’re going to walk for an hour a day or do a particular workout three days a week at the gym. Tell yourself that you’re going to start using an envelope system to better manage your money. Proclaim that you’re going to go out on a date with your spouse every Friday.
When you lay out the details of a goal, you make it real. And real is far easier to follow than nebulous.
So you’re making resolutions all year round, you’re starting small and well-defined, and you’re building discipline and willpower. That’s great. But there’s one last thing you need.
You can’t stop when things get difficult—and they will. The key to consistency is being honest with yourself upfront. It’s going to be hard to keep going to the gym. Tell yourself that. It’s going to be difficult to save your money instead of going out to see that movie you’ve been waiting for.
But being consistent means making the right choices over and over again—not just in the days directly after the New Year.
To do this, you need to eliminate negative thought patterns. Don’t let yourself dwell on how hard a resolution is to keep. Accept that it is hard, and move on. Think on the benefits, on how pleased your future self will be that you made it.
Finally, hold yourself accountable. If you can’t, get a friend to hold you accountable. In fact, get several friends to do so—people who talk about their resolutions are 10 times more likely to keep them.
Stay positive, stay honest, and stay accountable. There, you’ll find consistency.
A New You
When the next New Year’s Day rolls around, you’re not going to do a thing. Do you know why? Because your resolutions will have already been made. You’ll be ahead of the game, and far ahead of your friends as they make their easily-broken promises to themselves.
So endeavor to break the 4,000 year chain of failure. Don’t worry with New Year’s resolutions anymore, and you’ll soon join the 9.2 percent of people who actually succeed in reinventing themselves.