If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve just finished ringing in the new year. You may even have set a couple of new year’s resolutions with friends and family.
It’s good to set resolutions. It’s even better to make them happen.
The great news is, making your new year’s resolutions actually happen is actually quite simple.
And while they may seem like wishful thinking, new year’s resolutions are just a clever form of goal setting and goal getting that utilises the momentum of the new year to give you a head start.
So Why The New Year?
The New Year matters.
Almost every culture in the world celebrates the end of one calendar year as it ushers in the next.
This may be due to natural rhythms, religious traditions, or just the zeitgeist of everyone around you partying like it’s a new tomorrow.
Whatever the reason, you may as well use the momentum that the new year generates to your advantage. It’s time to set some goals for yourself this year and then go about achieving them with ease.
You can think of making your new year’s resolutions actually happen as a process with three parts:
- Set up your resolutions.
- Make them happen.
- Enjoy the process.
Part 1: How to Set New Year’s Resolutions
Setting new year’s resolutions is exactly the same as setting goals. The first part you need is a good goal setting model to follow.
I’m going to introduce you to three different models, and then show you how to put them together to create extremely effective and structured resolutions.
Model 1: OKR: Objectives and Key Results
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results and comes from the corporate world. It was created by Andy Grove of Intel, and has been popularised by its use at Google. It is basically a form of individual goal setting for businesses, but is also suitable for personal use.
In the OKR model, you basically write your new year resolution in two parts:
- The objective. This is the clearly defined goal you are after.
- The key results. These are the specific measures that you are going to use to track the achievement of that goal.
Model 2: S.M.A.R.T. Goals
S.M.A.R.T. stands for:
- Achievable (or Attainable).
- Time-bound (or Time-Limited).
This is likely nothing new to you. S.M.A.R.T. has been a hallmark of goal setting know-how for decades.
Model 3: Well-Formed Outcomes
The idea of well-formed outcomes comes from NLP, where it is used to help structure more empowering beliefs. For our purposes, we can use it to better structure goals and outcomes.
Here are the well-formedness conditions:
- Do you actually know what you want?
- Why do you want that?
- What will having that do for you?
- Is your outcome expressed in positive or as positive as possible terms?
- Is it defined in sensory and specific terms?
- Will there be any supporting evidence to show your achievement of this outcome?
- Do you think you can achieve this outcome or the majority of it by yourself?
- How will this impact others in your life?
- How do you know that this outcome will actually improve your life?
- What will it be like in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years after achieving this outcome?
- Is this outcome epistemologically sound? In other words, will achieving this outcome hurt or change other parts of your self, identity or beliefs?
Putting OKR, S.M.A.R.T. and Well-Formedness Together
If we piece together our three models, each resolution that we set should look something like this:
- Name the resolution.
- Identify specific measures/key results indicating achievement.
- Map out a process of how you will achieve the resolution.
- Write down your progress and results as they occur.
Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.
The Name of your resolution or goal should accurately describe what it is you want. This is the “O” part of OKR and “knowing what you want” part of well-formedness conditions.
The Specific Measures are the numbers or benchmarks involved in achieving your goal. Writing these hits the “KR” part of OKR, and the “S” and “M” parts of S.M.A.R.T.
The Process helps you break down the resolution into smaller things you have to do. The simple act of breaking down your resolution into actions helps cover the “A”, “R” and “T” parts of S.M.A.R.T., as well as addressing the well-formedness conditions outlined above.
The Results part relates to making your new year’s resolutions actually happen. You will fill this in throughout the year as you progress towards your goal.
Here’s an example:
Name: Lose 7kg over the next 2 months. Key Results Expected: * 7kg in scale weight lost. * Expected to lose about 1kg per week. Process: * Work out how much I’m eating now. * Take about 500 calories off my meals daily. * Eat for a month first. * Adjust as needed. Results: * To be filled in as the year progresses.
Part 2: How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Actually Happen
Now that you know how to set really good new year’s resolutions, let’s look at how you actually make them happen.
Only Set Three New Year’s Resolutions
The first thing is to set a maximum of three resolutions.
That’s right, just three.
Because of the new year excitement you may feel like a superhero and want to jump in and go for five, ten or even fifteen resolutions but I would urge you not to. Start with three, and if you get all of those done by the end of March… you can always set more.1You can make a list of “future resolutions” to call up anytime you’re ready for a new resolution.
I know, I know. Three seems like… so few. Like it’s nothing to get excited about. But trust me, three is the right number.
There is some human psychology at play here.
It goes like this: if I give you ten things to choose from, you would probably end up taking a really long time to pick one, or more likely, you would end up picking none.
If I only gave you three things to choose from… you would be able to pick one really easily, and be able to identify which you like the most, then second most, then third most.
So let’s apply this to your resolutions.
You set three resolutions, and you get started on them. As you work on the first one, you may get a little bored… so you look at your list of three resolutions and go to the next one. As you work on the second one you find your attention wandering again… so you look at your list of resolutions and go the next one. And suppose you really can’t hold that one in your attention for the next little while… the first resolution is now far-enough removed that it will seem interesting again.
But if you instead had five, ten or fifteen resolutions, you would have no idea which of those were the most important to you, and you would be paralysed to act. Or more likely, you would become anxious that you are “missing out” on a given resolution by picking another.
And that is why three is the magic number.
The second thing is to decide whether you will tell others about your resolutions. A common idea in popular psychology is that you should tell people about your goals.
From studies and my own experience, I think that this largely depends on your personality type.
If you are someone who is extrinsically motivated (about 90% of people), then yes, I believe that telling people about your goals is a good thing – as telling others will hold you accountable.
If you are someone who is intrinsically motivated however, do not tell others about your goals. In fact, the studies show that telling others will actually hurt your chances of achieving it.2Wrzesniewski, A., Schwartz, B., Cong, X., Kane, M., Omar, A. & Kolditz, T. Multiple motives don’t multiply motivation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jul 2014, 111(30), 10990-10995. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1405298111
The third thing is daily tracking.
The word “tracking” may evoke imagery of spreadsheets or gantt charts, but it doesn’t have to be that complex (unless you want it to be).
The most basic form of tracking is to remind yourself of your resolutions daily. Simply print or write out your resolutions on piece of paper and stick it on something you will see every morning, like your bathroom mirror.
If you want to step it up a level, track them in your journal, your task manager, on post-it notes, on your phone/computer wallpaper or whatever other system you use – just find a way to incorporate your resolutions very visibly into that system. This allows you to track the “Results” part of each resolution.
Now if you want to get even more sophisticated, it’s time to pull out a spreadsheet and track the metrics of your resolution – the numbers behind your specific measures/key results.
Using the example resolution about weight loss, you would want to weigh yourself consistently every day, then average out your weight weekly and track that as a measure of progress.
It’s up to you to find out what number accurately describes the outcome that you’re after. It could be:
- Weight in kg/lbs.
- Time spent.
- Actions completed.
- Number of X (words, dates, jobs booked etc).
- And so on.
Adjustment and Course Correction
Achieving your New Year’s Resolutions will not be linear.
In fact, it will look something like this:
You will hit snags and speed bumps during your journey. These can come in many forms, such as your body not responding to the painstakingly-crafted diet you’re feeding it, your business not returning the results you expected, or even a regression into bad habits.
Whatever it is, the correction is always the same: make note of it, think about it a bit, make a rational decision for how to course correct and then continue.
Despite what our education system teaches us, it is perfectly OK to get things wrong the first time and then to correct them later.
Part 3: Enjoying the Process
The final part in setting and getting your new year’s resolutions is to enjoy the process.
It is important for your psychology to know that achieving goals is a process, not an event.
If you have followed everything above you have set good, solid resolutions for yourself. Now you need to realise that while the final outcome and results of those resolutions is outside your control, the process of getting them is under your control.
I’m not a big sports guy but the analogy is very much on-point here. When an athlete competes in a sport, they spend most of their time in training and in playing games. They focus on what they can control and do: train as hard as they can, and play the best game that they can.
The actual outcome of the game, whether their side wins or loses, is not up to them. It is up to a confluence of factors so complicated you may as well call it the will of the gods.
Athletes know that they cannot directly affect the outcome – that’s madness. Instead, focus on what you can control, the process. Let the results take care of themselves.
Remember, there is no magic pill when it comes to getting the things we want. Results often take time (despite what we see on social media/the news), and it could be weeks, months or even years before you see visible results towards your goal. More likely, you’ll wake up one day and someone will point out something to you and you’ll realise that you’ve achieved your goal. And you achieved it because you focused on the process of getting there, rather than trying to manifest it directly.
I personally see enjoying the process as offering more than just achieving your resolutions or goals. You also get to practice a couple of virtues at the same time – patience, and self-reliance.
Patience is pretty self-explanatory. And the more you do it, the better you get at it over time.
Self-reliance I define as the ability to succeed at difficult tasks, eventually. This is in stark contrast with the majority of people today who need something to happen as quickly as they can tap buttons on their phone… but the truth is some things just take a certain period of time to happen.
In enjoying the process, you get to practice self-reliance, which in turn will make you enjoy the process more – a very real positive feedback loop. It will also make it easier to achieve future new year’s resolutions and goals.
Common Mistakes and Solutions
Before I close up this article here are some of the common mistakes people make when trying to make their New Year’s Resolutions actually happen. If you’ve followed the process above you’ll note that these have all been addressed, but here they are in a different form for contrast.
Not setting any resolutions.
If you have set resolutions, this is not at issue.
Not defining resolutions properly.
Following the OKR, S.M.A.R.T. and well-formedness conditions helps you define your resolutions properly.
Not writing your resolutions down.
Putting them on a piece of paper counts as writing your resolutions down.
Not reviewing resolutions regularly.
Having your resolutions stuck to your bathroom mirror, in your journal, or on your computer forces you to review them daily.
Forgetting about your resolutions.
Again, reviewing your resolutions daily addresses this.
Reviewing your resolutions daily also addresses this.
Not taking action towards your resolutions consistently.
Reviewing your resolutions daily helps with this, but the other component is enjoying the process.
You now know that making your new year’s resolutions happen is a process and will take time and that you will likely enjoy that process. And because of this, you’ll take more consistent actions towards your resolutions.
You’ll give in less to instant-gratification rewards and instead take pleasure in the steady (and sometimes rapid) progress you make towards your goals.
What To Do Next
If you haven’t already, it’s time to write down your new year’s resolutions, and then run them through the models described above and make sure they are well-defined.
Then you want to print them out, and stick them somewhere you can see them daily.
And then you want to get to it – start following the processes and steps you’ve outlined for yourself.
And lastly, enjoy the process. You’ll find the most satisfaction in the journey, and wake up one day to realise that you’ve bittersweetly reached the end, and that it’s time to start on the next year.
That’s how you make your new year’s resolutions actually happen.
- You can make a list of “future resolutions” to call up anytime you’re ready for a new resolution.
- Wrzesniewski, A., Schwartz, B., Cong, X., Kane, M., Omar, A. & Kolditz, T. Multiple motives don’t multiply motivation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jul 2014, 111(30), 10990-10995. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1405298111