7 Easy Ways to Make Sure Your New Year’s Resolution Survives the February Slump

published Jan 6, 2021
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If January is the Monday of months, that means Jan. 1 is the Mondayest Monday all year (even if it technically fell on a different day of the week). It is the date all of those self-betterment goals and resolutions you thought about but didn’t start last year come crashing back to you. So what happens when your list of goals and resolutions is a mile long… and you’re already daunted by keeping momentum up through February, let alone all year long?

It’s human to make promises to yourself that you, inevitably, end up breaking, but it might be time to consider that maybe the problem is not you, it is the way you set yourself up. (One study found that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions ultimately fail.) Instead of spending the whole year pushing a mountain of goals for “later,” why not reframe your thinking so that you don’t feel like you bit off more than you can chew?

From being specific about what you actually want to achieve, to allowing for escape hatches and pivots, here are seven tips for approaching your resolutions differently—in a way that sticks for good.

Figure out what YOU want—and why you want it.

There are some resolutions that are admirable, but extremely common: Work out more, cook more, spend less money… you get the picture. While these are all great steps, figure out what you specifically want to do within these big goals. It is very easy to get lost in the freedom that vague resolutions promise, so specifically decide on what you want to achieve. 

When you tell yourself to work out more, what is the goal? Do you want to run a faster mile? Do you want to strengthen your arms so you can lift your niece without trouble? Figure out what you specifically want to achieve, and make a plan to get there, such as increasing your weight load every few weeks.

Find a balance between broad self-development and tangible goals.

If you’re like me, you find comfort in crossing things off your to-do list. While having a list of New Year’s resolutions with short-term, tangible goals that can easily be checked off is productive, balancing it with long-term self-development goals might be beneficial. This way, you can have a list of resolutions you are working towards in the long run while still having the pleasure of completing short-term goals for yourself. 

For example, my tangible goal this year is to complete a new level of Spanish language, while my broad goal is to work on being  less passive when I’m angry. For a list of non-tangible, self-development goals from the best minds and writers of humanity you can check out this list made by brainpickings. 

Focus on beginning rather than completing. 

Sometimes the point of a resolution isn’t necessarily to cross a finish line—it can be about getting started. In a world that is constantly evolving, it is near-impossible to mark a self-improvement goal as done if you are aiming for sustainable change. And on a tactical level, how many times have you started a project you had delayed only to find that it took next to no time to actually complete?

It can be easier said than done to simply start something for the sake of getting started. To fight this impulse, I try to be mindful of how I word my goals. For example, rather than saying, “I am going to be more optimistic,” you can say something like, “I will try to find something positive every day.” This way, you are giving yourself a framework in which you can embark on a journey while giving yourself room to keep changing as the days go on. 

Credit: Jessica Rapp

Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, and work from there.

Draw the line between self-development and forcing yourself to be something you are not. To do this, it can be helpful to determine your weaknesses and think about how you can turn them into strengths. For instance, I know that one of my weaknesses is public speaking—specifically when I have to use a Powerpoint presentation. (During my most recent presentation, my voice was extremely shaky and I finished the speech with jazz hands.) Believing that the best way to turn a weakness into strength is practice, I started taking up more presentation tasks at work. 

Practice gratitude every day.  

When you are thinking about your resolutions, make sure to add some modest goals that allow you to appreciate tiny details and routines such as being able to visit your family, calling your grandparents, grabbing a drink with an old friend, and having a space to yourself where you feel safe and calm. It will keep you in check to appreciate what you already have. A study done by Harvard showed that being grateful actually makes you happier: “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” the researchers noted. Those good vibes can help you stay motivated to crush other resolutions and goals. 

Value the people in your life.

While enjoying your time alone is important, it should be balanced with time spent with people you love and value—and though 2020 made that difficult for many people, it also underscored how important that time together is. As Scientific American noted, not only does being social help people survive health problems, a lack of social interaction can result in additional health problems. In 2021, connecting with people you value can look as varied as a family game night, time spent in a Zoom class with like-minded people, or volunteering in your community. 

Credit: Jessica Rapp

Work on adapting, and preparing for the unknown. 

Having goals that can change based on your present or future circumstances will help you feel more resilient in the short term, and keep your resolution in the long run. Ask yourself how your resolution can be adapted if something drastic were to happen in your life—if it’s inflexible to change, it might not be the resolution for you. One of my 2020 resolutions was to travel more—and you can imagine how that turned out. I switched my broad goal of visiting at least four cities last year with taking more road trips to locations that allowed for safe distancing like national parks, or the seaside. Hopefully the unknown elements of 2021 will be less dire than the year we just lived through, but the more resilient your goals are from the outset, the more likely you’ll be to achieve them in the long run.