New Year’s resolutions are quickly becoming a thing of the past. 57% of Americans report failing to make any resolutions at all. And understandably so, as only 7% keep resolutions they make. Despite the low success rate, 40% of people still intend to set resolutions for 2022.
The desire to make resolutions is understandable. The turnover from the old year to the new provides a marker for change that is hard to resist. As we approach the end of a year, it is natural to reflect and look at what we accomplished and what we hope to be different going forward.
We want things to be different especially when we experience difficulty as we all have over the last two years. The Covid pandemic has brought grief and unique stressors into almost every area of life. Of course, we want things to be different in 2022. Of course, we want things to change. We do not want life to be like it was last year. So, it feels natural to resolve for things to be different in 2022.
Resolutions often feel like the answer to achieving this change. We identify what went wrong in the old year and what the fix will be in the new. The most popular fixes we identify are to exercise more, eat healthier, save money, and lose weight. These popular resolutions often revolve around not doing ‘enough’. “I didn’t exercise enough.” “I didn’t eat healthy enough.” “I didn’t save enough money.” “I didn’t lose enough weight.”
The fix then becomes to do more. More exercise. More saving. More weight loss. But inevitably something comes along that keeps us from ‘more’. Unexpected bills, injury, illness . . . pandemics. Things are so outside of our control but somehow, we begin to think those things should not stand in the way of the achievement of more.
Instead, we often internalize our failure to keep our resolutions or our goals as something wrong with us personally. The thinking moves from “I’m not doing enough” to “I am not enough.” It’s a subtle but powerful shift.
What if we stopped looking at resolutions as efforts to fix what went wrong last year or, perhaps more accurately, as efforts to fix ourselves. What if we looked at 2021 and saw whatever happened, as enough? The good, the bad, the tragic. The efforts we made, the goals we did or did not hit. What if we viewed all of it as enough? What if we viewed ourselves as enough? How would that change how we set and kept resolutions?
I think we begin to think and do the things that actually lead us to successfully keeping resolutions.
- We focus on progress over perfection. Often when we view resolutions as a way to fix ourselves, we set ‘all or nothing goals. If we don’t go to the gym every day or lose all the weight or save enough for the new house, we have failed. And then we give up. Seeing ourselves and our efforts as enough mean valuing any progress we make. So, losing 5lbs instead of the desired 10lbs becomes something to celebrate. Saving $100 instead of the $500 you resolved to save can be seen as on the way to your goal, rather than failure. And any progress can then be seen as enough.
- We adopt the “something is better than nothing” mentality. This idea has been shown to be key in accomplishing goals. If we resolve to work out for an hour every day, and then the kids get sick or the boss moves up the deadline on a big project, that hour may become out of our control. But if we see doing something as better than doing nothing, then 10 minutes on the treadmill becomes enough. We end up taking a smaller step than we might have liked, but we have taken a step nonetheless. And any step is taken, no matter how big, becomes enough.
- We stay present and focused on today. When we believe we are enough and that our efforts are enough, we are free to focus on where we are in the present moment and less distracted by not being where we want to be. Focus on the present allows us to determine what step we can take today. Maybe that old knee injury keeps me from running today, but it does feel ok to go for a walk. Whatever I can do today becomes enough.
- We start to focus on what we can control. Too often our goals and resolutions are unrealistic. In fact, this is the number one reason people fail to keep their resolutions. And those unrealistic resolutions are often dependent on circumstances we cannot control. Take losing weight, for example. We cannot actually control how our bodies respond to our efforts to make them lose weight, especially as we get older. But what we can control is the decisions we make to help our bodies be as healthy as possible. If at the end of the year, we made the decision to move more than we did the previous year and still failed to lose a single pound, that would be enough. We did the thing that was within our control.
Shifting our mindset from fixing the last year to believing that it and we were enough actually led us closer to the change we want to see. It breaks the link we have made between worthiness and achievement, making our goals much more attainable. We shift failure to keep resolutions away from an internalized character flaw and begin to value the progress we do make while honoring the obstacles that were out of our control.
When we change the way we approach resolutions or goals, we can begin to see the coming year as a work in process, valuing any step taken in the direction we want to go. Even if it takes longer to reach our goal or the goal changes along the way or we have setbacks, we will be able to look back in 2023 and see progress as the success of 2022.