Most of us ring in each New Year with a set of new resolutions — often the same ones we had last year, sharing a common theme of deprivation.
We swear off our favorite holiday indulgences, like sugar, fat, and cocktails, (spiked egg nog as the perfect trifecta), coffee, lounging on the couch, and other guilty pleasures we enjoy. "What's left?" we wonder as we prepare our celery and saltine cracker lunch, adding a lime wedge garnish to our glass of sparkling water. Afterwards, it's time for our daily walk.
This year, however, will be different. Our priorities have changed, and we intend to compensate for time lost. By planning to add instead of subtract both purpose and pleasure, we stand a much better chance of keeping our resolutions for once.
Specific Goals Predict Success
When it comes to reaching goals, specificity breeds success.
Bettina Höchli et al. (2019), exploring how to make New Year's resolutions people could actually keep, recognized the short-term nature of motivation, which is high on January 1 but decreases over time, until many (or most) resolutions are eventually abandoned. Why?
Höchli et al. (ibid.) note that we make resolutions in order to set goals we want to pursue. They distinguish between two different types of goals, explaining that goal‐setting theory proposes that unlike abstract superordinate goals, people who set specific (subordinate) goals can enhance their performance.
Höchli et al. recognized one characteristic of superordinate goals that promotes goal pursuit as the focus on long-term results. They give the example of the superordinate goal "to live a healthy life" as an open‐ended goal which cannot be achieved in one step, which can create a disconnect between the present time and goal achievement. In their research, they found that after a three-month period of time, people invested more effort in goal pursuit when they included both superordinate and subordinate goals, as opposed to focusing on a superordinate goal alone.
As I have noted previously, we may be able to keep our New Year's goals through strategies like public resolve and reward. This year, we might publicize our goals to both help us, and inspire others. Here are some potential plans.
New Year's Resolutions Worth Pursuing
Health. Many people skipped all of their routine medical appointments and unnecessary procedures in 2020 out of fear of catching COVID. They might not have contracted the virus, but are now dealing with conditions that might have been better addressed with earlier intervention. Resolve to take care of your own health this year, so you are in good shape to care for others.
Wealth. Sure, we saved money by not dining out, shopping or even buying gas. But many people have been fired or furloughed due to pandemic closures, or have jobs they cannot do remotely. So this year, resolve to focus on finances, planning specific short-term steps to focus on smart fiscal strategy, whether you seek to invest a surplus, or ration savings.
Happiness. Boost your New Year's mood is by planning pleasure — in terms of scheduling quality time. Although research surrounding vacation planning is mixed, at least close in time of departure, most of us can relate to the anticipation of having a specific event on the horizon to look forward to.
Kindness. Resolving to follow the Golden Rule this year by treating others the way you want to be treated is free, does not require a scale or a smart phone app, and provides an exponential return on your investment.
Try it for a week and see how this is a New Year's resolution you can keep.
By viewing 2021 as a year to add, not abstain, focusing on goals that are both specific and special, we may be encouraged and inspired to fulfill our resolutions.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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