Don’t Let Your New Year’s Resolution Be Squashed by Bad Timing
‘Tis the season for resolutions. Just before every new year, people will make every excuse under the sun just to sneak in another cookie or another hour of sleep. Why? New Year’s Day is decision day — the day that everyone gives up their bad habits to start fresh.
It may be because of people have more time, they’re sticking to tradition, or they’re in the holiday mental state. Regardless of their reasoning, come February, you won’t hear anyone talking about their resolutions anymore. It isn’t hard to realize that sticking with a resolution isn’t easy. Often, it involves discipline, patience, and training, something with which the month of January doesn’t match up well. Essentially, it’s a bit pointless to make resolutions during this time.
Why New Years’ Day Might Not Be the Best Time to Make a Change
People have motivation cycles.
“There are moments we’re particularly open to seeking out tools to change ourselves for the better,” Katharine Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, says in a Washington Post interview.
She led a study with two other professors to determine when people are most motivated. They found that people tend to divide their lives into “chapters”, and specific moments indicate a new beginning. They can separate themselves from the past and focus on the present.
Humans can’t resist do-overs, and they can happen at any point in the year, as long as they mentally deem it a “fresh start”.
People encounter decision fatigue.
Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” many years ago. This term refers to Baumeister’s speculations that a person’s ego depends on mental activities that transfer energy. While Baumeister was wrong about some things, his theory has developed into a phenomenon called “decision fatigue”.
Simply put, no matter how focused or rational you try to be, it’s not possible to constantly make decisions without paying a biological price. With each decision you make, your brain becomes more fatigued, and this leads to two shortcuts: becoming reckless or doing nothing.
What this means for New Years’ resolutions is while it may be easy to decide to change, you eventually become tired of supporting the effort needed to keep the change.
People simply force themselves to change.
Amy Cuddy, a professor at the Harvard business school, says “People are making absolute statements about what they’re going to do, and that’s setting them up for failure immediately because they’re not always going to go to the gym three times a week.”
People’s resolutions do them more harm than good because they’re forcing themselves to make a commitment. Often, these commitments are outrageously large goals, ones that leave little room for failure. And if people do fail at these goals, it discourages them from trying again.
The fact that everyone else is pandering to the annual New Years’ trend makes everything much worse. Instead of setting small, attainable goals, people immediately set themselves up to fail by falling into the same lofty, trendy ideals.
So: When is the Best Time to Make a Resolution?
As Milkman’s study concluded, people love starting anew and being handed opportunities for second chances. But when will these chances occur? It may help to look at certain landmarks of your life, such as:
- an event that brought much happiness or sadness
- when you’re on the brink of something big
- when you need a change of scenery
- starting a new semester or month
These are a few suggestions, but there is one situation that will universally work for everyone:
Make Time for Change Every Day.
The beginning of a new year isn’t the only time you can make a change. How about March 26, or June 11, or October 15? Any day can be the right moment for a positive change. At any time, you can have an opportunity for growth.
Any goal you have ever accomplished in your life was the result of dedication and persistence. You didn’t wake up one morning, have a good stretch, and changed everything about your life in one day. Things happened when you decide to change in increments — taking small steps and never giving up will keep you on track towards making changes in your life that you want to see.
Most importantly, change happened because you were flexible about it and worked at it when you could. When you write down a goal, that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone.
If you want to get started setting attainable goals today, use a system (such as the SMART system) that will guarantee progress with small, attainable steps along the way.
Just don’t do it all on New Years’ day.