Why your New Year’s resolutions suck

How to set goals you can actually achieve

Me sliding into the new year

New Year’s resolutions don’t work. I could cite some random statistic, but you probably know from experience.

If you’re like me, you’re in the last group: new year, new me turns into lol in a matter of weeks. Why does this happen every year? NBC investigates.

1. You make too many resolutions

The appeal of New Year’s is that nothing’s happened yet. So hypothetically, anything could happen. I could double my savings. I could read fifty books. I could finally glow up. But will I?

Probably not.

You can’t become your best self in a year. Who you are is a habit, and changing habits takes time. It’s tempting to make a complete self-improvement list, but that’s only setting yourself up for disappointment.

2. Your resolutions are vague as hell

Your list might look something like this:

  • Be healthier
  • Exercise more
  • Spend less

Those aren’t goals — they’re fantasies. Magical words we write down in hopes that they’ll materialize and restrain us the next time we’re eyeing a muffin at Starbucks. Unfortunately, the only magic in this world is our ability to rationalize poor decisions.

3. You only make resolutions at New Year’s

New Year’s resolutions suck because they’re for the entire year. The only thing harder than building habits is thinking, “Damn, I gotta keep this up for a year?” while doing it.

How to achieve your goals

So how do we make better resolutions? To start, don’t call them resolutions. You can only make resolutions in January, but you can set goals whenever.

1. Only have a few goals at once

Focus on your top priorities and see them through. It’s more motivating to finish one thing than to half-finish many things. Personally, I only have three goals at any given time.

2. Make specific goals

Translate your vague-ass resolutions into measurable behavior. Being explicit keeps you accountable.

  • Be healthier
    Cook dinner 3 nights a week
  • Exercise more
    Exercise 3 times a week, 30 minutes each
  • Spend less
    Make a monthly budget and stick to it

3. Keep goals short-term

Don’t think about the whole year; try a month, or even a week. If it’s a large task, break it into smaller pieces. Smokers quit a day at a time, not by thinking about “never”.

My method: OKRs

I put these this tips into practice with OKRs, which stands for Objectives and Key Results. It’s a way for companies like Google to set business goals, but I’ve found it useful in my personal life.

The OKR method

  • Every month, I set three objectives. These are broad aspirations.
  • Each objective is tied to one or more key results. These are specific, measurable actions.
  • Throughout the month, I’ll review my OKRs to make sure I’m on track.
  • At the end of the month, I’ll update my OKRs. If I feel like something has become habit, I’ll set a new key result or replace the OKR entirely.

Example: OKRs, January 2018

Objective: Be decisive
Key result: Respond to texts and emails within an hour of seeing them.

Objective: Be straightforward
Key results: (1) If you think of texting someone, do it. Even if you type in their name and see that they left you on “read” last time. (2) If you have something you want to say, say it.

Objective: Be social
Key results: (1) Smile at everyone you interact with. (2) Listen more than you talk. Get people to talk about themselves!

There’s no “right” time to start doing something — unless you’re 8 months pregnant, or about to participate in the NASA study where you lie in bed for 3 months. You’ll know when you’re making excuses.

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