Why do so many resolutions not make it past the first week of January? Are people just less tenacious than they used to be, or do people just expect to break them?

As we seemingly rush headlong toward the start of a new year, isn’t it amazing how time flies? Where did 2021 go? Mind you, a new year often brings a lot of new things as people prepare for a “fresh start” and promise to deal with many of the issues that have previously held them back. New Year’s resolutions are a popular activity, and the tradition goes back as far as the Roman and Babylonian civilizations, but why do only a fraction of them work?

The dictionary defines a resolution as “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” An all-or-nothing commitment. It sounds like setting yourself up for failure or a one-time action.

  • I will stop cursing.
  • I will quit smoking.
  • I will join a gym.

The challenge with resolutions is quite often the way they are stated. People make nebulous statements that have no end point and can’t be measured. Here are some examples:

  • “I will make more time for my family.”
  • “I will eat less candy.”
  • “I will drink more water.”

What connects all these statements is that it is impossible to know if—or when— you’ve achieved them. If they can’t be measured and have no deadlines, then how can you expect to resolve your resolutions?

Make it a routine to include checking in on your goals when you are establishing your daily or weekly plans. This keeps them alive.

So, if resolutions are a waste of time, what’s the alternative?

Goal Setting to the Rescue

How about simply setting yourself a couple of goals? Let’s just get back to the basics we have used to achieve much of the success in our lives.

Have a look at these reminders to help you craft the well-written goals that will guide you to great things in 2021.

Be SMART. SMART, in this instance, stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. We all know this acronym, so let’s use it to start the year successfully. If your goals follow these tenets, then it gives you the impetus to reach the end, and you’ll know when you get there. The difference between a goal and a SMART goal is the difference between “I want to be thinner” and “I will lose 15 pounds by May 1.” Which is more likely to be a successful goal?

Share your vision.Tell people. You are more likely to reach a goal when you’ve shared it with others. Keep a goal to yourself, and you are less likely to reach it. Who knows why the psychology of this works, but it does. By involving others in your goals and dreams, it not only motivates you but enables a support system for you to achieve them. Like it or not, your friend may remind you of your weight loss goal when you reach for the third cookie.

Write them down.While some people might think this practice useless, it is huge. For some reason, written goals are much more likely to be achieved than goals that are not written. And don’t just tuck them away, never to be seen again. Keep them visible in your planner, on your refrigerator or even in your smartphone.

Check in on your goals regularly. Make it a practice to review your goals and progress toward them regularly. Make it a routine to include checking in on your goals when you are establishing your daily or weekly schedule. This keeps them alive. It also helps you make space for them in your daily or weekly plans, rather than being trumped by everyone else’s “to-dos.”

Celebrate.When you’ve reached your goal, enjoy it! Celebrate. Plan for the celebration. One of my clients loves to attend plays. Her reward to herself for reaching one of her goals was to see a certain play. She did both, and both were memorable. Some goals are very lofty and have many subparts. In this situation, celebrate incremental achievements. If you make it a practice to reward yourself or pat yourself on the back as you reach the smaller milestones, you can energize yourself toward the final goal.

The biggest challenge with goal setting is just plain “getting to it.” So, instead of making a resolution, set a goal (or two) this year. Write them down. Tell others. Review them regularly. Then enjoy your celebrations—and success.

What goals (NOT resolutions) will you make for 2021?