A cultural phenomenon in Ancient Rome, throughout the Christian Empire, and in our modern, tech-hungry society of today, setting New Year’s resolutions, in fact, dates back to the Babylonians, who lived more than 4,000 years ago. Though they celebrated the new year in mid-March according to the lunar calendar, the Babylonians treated it as a time to make promises and improvements for the year to come.
Despite its long history, only about 8% of Americans will actually keep their resolutions this year, although 46% of us will maintain them through June. So what makes it so hard to keep up the dedication and commitment for the entire 12 months?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the key to making your New Year’s resolutions stick is to start small and change one behavior at a time. I’m as guilty as anyone of starting the year off with a bang by saying I’m going to eat healthier, exercise more, and read 30 books in the coming year. But those goals are way too vague—and probably not realistic. So I’m starting 2017 off right with a few gifts for myself, and some resolutions I know I can stick to.
A Meaningful Resolution Matters
In order for a New Year’s resolution to last an entire calendar year, it has to be something you’re passionate about. Sure, everyone wants to eat healthier and be fitter, but why? Knowing why something is important to you makes it far more meaningful—and far more likely that you’ll hold fast to your goal as the months roll by.
It’s not always easy to answer those deep questions, though. That’s why I love journaling. Oftentimes, I’ll sit down to write in my journal and begin by rattling off the events of the day. Then, somewhere in that process, I begin to see things differently. Maybe I’ll notice a particular behavior pattern or a specific thought or emotion that comes up again and again.
Journaling is more than just writing down whatever comes to mind. It forces you to acknowledge and make sense of your thoughts in a logical way. Rather than jumping from idea to idea in your mind, it requires you to put those abstract thoughts into a logical string of words, which gives you a deeper level of self-understanding.
A research study published in the International Journal for Human Caring found that structured, self-reflective journaling promotes better self-awareness and professional growth. In self-reflective journaling, the goal is to answer the following questions every day as honestly as possible:
- What is your daily life like? How do you strive to achieve your goals? Write about your day and how your goals fit into it.
- What are you coming to know about yourself today?
- What are your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances like? Are they helping or hindering your goals?
As 2016 winds down, I decided to treat myself to a little post-Christmas gift: a handmade leather-bound journal. When the New Year arrives, I’ll be ready to dig into all the internal roadblocks that try to get in the way of maintaining my New Year’s resolutions. Also, because this journal feels so special and meaningful to me, I’ll be more motivated to write in and read from it every day.
Break Big Goals Down to Small Tasks
I tend to give myself abstract, lofty goals, so I decided if I had any hope of making it past March with my resolutions in tact, I needed to get organized. I found these printable worksheets online that help you identify your goals and break them down into smaller steps so that they’re measurable and achievable. For example, one of my New Year’s resolutions is always to exercise more because who doesn’t want to be stronger, leaner, and healthier? But that’s a pretty broad goal. What does it mean to just “exercise more?” More than what? And how much exercise is enough?
Using the worksheets, I was able to break down my big, broad goal into more concrete details. Since I currently go for two or three long walks each week, I decided I wanted to increase my weekly activity to three runs and three walks. Getting even more specific, I figured out that I should run for 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and walk for 45 minutes on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Alternating days will give my sore muscles time to recover from running, while staying active with a walk. Knowing that I usually like to have at least one lazy day per week, I gave myself Sundays off.
Now I have specific, quantifiable goals that I can implement every day. When I journal each evening, I can give myself credit for sticking to my plan or, if something happens to throw me off course, I can figure out why I couldn’t squeeze in my 30-45 minute exercise session that day. What got in the way? Am I giving other activities or responsibilities more priority than exercise? Is that OK, or do I need to re-evaluate my priorities? It’s easier to figure out why a specific goal is or isn’t working rather than trying to understand why you haven’t been “exercising more.”
Of course, there are going to be days when I falter and I don’t stick to my new exercise routine. Things happen! But it’s important to focus on what you’re doing well. The key is to do better than yesterday, not to be perfect every day. Even on days when you don’t hit every single goal on your list, there’s still a lot to be grateful for. With an optimistic attitude, it’s easier to stay committed to achieving those New Year’s resolutions and to forget about throwing in the towel.
Reward Yourself Along the Way
When you do have a day, week, or month when you’ve hit all your goals, it’s time to celebrate. Before the new year even begins, establish rewards for specific checkpoints. For example, I decided that whenever I have a week when I’ve completed all three of my 30-minute runs and my 45-minute walks, I’ll get to enjoy a tall latte from Starbucks. If I’m able to stick to my goal for an entire month, I’ll pamper myself with an at-home spa day. And if I’m able to stick to my goal for a 3-month stretch, I’ll get a new workout outfit!
The tiny successes are just as important as the bigger goal because without the little achievements there would be no big ones. Establishing predetermined rewards also gives you something to look forward to and keeps you grounded when you don’t feel like pushing through a rough patch.
New Year’s is a time for reflecting on all the good you did in the year gone by and planning for all the wonderful things you can do in the year to come. I certainly had some proud moments in 2016, like preparing more meals at home, cutting back on red meat and cheese, and making exercise part of my routine. I’ve come a long way in creating a healthier lifestyle for myself and my family. But, I still have a lot of room for improvement, and that’s what 2017 is for.
Thanks to journaling, I’ve realized what’s truly important to me. I want to be around for a long time to enjoy my loved ones. I also have a lot of traveling to do and sights to see, which will be much easier and more enjoyable if I live a long, healthy life. Drawing on inspiration from the Babylonians, I’m doing everything I can to keep moving onwards and upwards in the year to come.
Want more ideas on how to make 2017 great for you and your loved ones? Let the Elves help you get creative and make some memories. Get ideas on our Facebook page, on Instagram @Elfstergram, and on Twitter @Elfster.
Latest posts by Rai C. (see all)
- Easy Snow Day Sports Crafts for Preschoolers to Make Fun Winter Memories with Kids - January 25, 2017
- A Kids’ Valentine’s Day Craft Party to DIY Handmade Treats, Cards—and Fun - January 16, 2017
- Woo Him with Japanese Valentine’s Day Traditions and Heartfelt Homemade Gifts - January 13, 2017