Resolutions? We don’t need no stinkin’ resolutions.

I used to make New Year’s resolutions; then I resolved to never do so again.

Yep, it’s true. I did so after I finally smartened up and realized I suck at making reasonable, attainable resolutions. Here’s an example:


French fries

Who am I kidding? We all know I’m not going to break up with these.

Image credit: French fries, Bistrot Du Coin by angela n., on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Obviously, this is not a reasonable goal, since French fries are pretty high up on my list of favorite foods. It’s probably attainable—if I never have to leave my house again—but it would make me a very unhappy person (and a hermit).

Not reasonable + not attainable = disappointment

Raise your hand if you’ve made one of these resolutions (or some variation):

  • I will not spend any extra money, maintain a grocery budget of $2.34 per day and put 45% of my take-home pay in a rainy-day fund.
  • I will restrict my calories, exercise every spare moment and lose 36 pounds by Valentine’s Day.
  • I will meet the person of my dreams and be married by the end of the year.

We make exhaustive lists of all the things we will accomplish starting January 1 when we are still blinded by bright holiday lights (and feeling guilty about the excess we’ve been indulging in from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve), but this old wisdom has been scientifically proven: Plant an expectation, reap a disappointment. Who wants to go around feeling like a failure? I certainly don’t.

Self-improvement is an evolution, not a bunch of items to check off a list

I’m not saying I don’t use the start of the New Year to take stock of what I’ve accomplished and what my goals are; I do. I think using the first day of the first month of a new year as a cue to mentally reset and start anew is a great motivator.

But instead of creating a pie-in-the-sky list of resolutions, here’s what I do: First, I consider the goals that are important to me and then I think about actions I have taken to attain them. Then, I reflect on what worked, what didn’t (and why) and contemplate what I can adjust to keep moving forward. I repeat this exercise regularly throughout the year; sometimes as I work toward a goal, I determine it’s no longer important to me and I want to focus my efforts elsewhere.

I believe this is a healthy and useful practice, it is something that is sustainable and helps improve the odds that I stay a reasonably happy person. The next thing I need to resolve to add to my practice is a system of rewards, to help keep me motivated and create a habit.

Of course, if all that fails and I need a quick confidence boost, I’ll set one of these resolutions for myself. It’s guaranteed success!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Have you achieved your goals? I’d love to hear your comments on the subject.