Megan Rasmussen MS, RDN
It’s a new year and you know what that means! It’s time to think about everything you want to accomplish within the next 365 days. A lot of people do this by reflecting on what they did or did not accomplish in the previous year. Some might build on progress they’ve already made. Others might have to recycle an old goal. Whichever category you fit into, I want to help you create the best New Year’s resolutions possible. And in order to create a great New Year’s resolution, there are a few mistakes you must avoid.
Mistake Number 1: Trying to change too many things at once.
Something about the New Year turns on panic mode for many people. We feel pressure to give our lives a complete makeover within the month of January alone. But slow down a second. They’re called New Year’s resolutions for a reason—because you have the entire year to work on them.
So instead of creating a 17-page list of goals to complete in one month, do this: Envision where you want to be a year from now—how you want to feel, what goals you want to have accomplished, and how you want to be spending your time. Then, choose one small goal to focus on this month that will move you one step closer to that vision. Slowly build on these goals each month.
Mistake Number 2: Committing to something every day for a whole year.
A common New Year’s resolution is to commit to something—drinking 8 cups of water, doing 20 squats, journaling, etc.—every single day. You think, ‘if I did this one thing every day, imagine how much better, stronger, or happier I would be!’ Unfortunately, there are two problems with this. The first is, it can take at least 66 days for a habit to form.1 Therefore, in the beginning you’ll likely forget a few days. This can make you feel like a failure. The second problem is, your goals will naturally evolve over the course of the year. What you want to work on in January will likely be different than what you want to work on in October.
So instead of committing to a whole year, focus on meeting your goal every day for a month. Try the habit on for size! Then re-evaluate next month if you’d like to continue it, change it, or add more to it.
Mistake Number 3: Creating a negatively-focused goal
Have you ever created a goal that sounded like this: “I will not eat ice cream” or “I’m going to stop staying up so late”? The problem with these goals, according to the British Journal of General Practice, is “It is not possible to form a habit for not doing something.” Additionally, this puts a negative spin on your goal and can leave you feeling discouraged.
So instead of choosing a behavior you want to give up, you must select a behavior you want to add. Don’t worry! The act of adding this new habit can actually help you break the old one in the process.
The New Year is a popular time to reflect. However, it’s important not to let your reflection throw you into panic mode. When creating your New Year’s resolutions, remember to start with a small, realistic, and positive goal. Don’t forget, you still have plenty of time (364 more days to be exact) to build on this goal and add even more!
- Gardner, B., Lally, P. and Wardle, J., 2012. Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), pp.664-666.