It's that time of year again when we re-examine our lives, tighten our belts, and drop the habits. Maybe it's because for the last two weeks we've been financial and gastronomic gluttons or perhaps it's just the fact that the turn of the calendar represents a blank slate that we feel compelled to make New Year's resolutions. It is exciting to think of all the opportunities for improvement that lie ahead. But why do we set ourselves up for failure? Let's take a quick look at why New Year's resolutions are designed to fail and what we can do about it.

History of New Year's Resolution

So where did we get this crazy idea that something has to change? Well, apparently it started close to 4000 years ago when the Babylonians developed the tradition to return something borrowed to a friend (including money…repaying debts…sound familiar?). The Romans also had a tradition of asking for forgiveness from their enemies. The Romans also were reported to pledge good conduct to the two-faced deity Janus who was the god of beginnings and endings. It's believed that this is where the first month's name comes from, January. Whether or not our ancient ancestors were able to keep their resolution is a mystery but why are our resolutions so hard to keep?

Resolutions with the Best Intentions (A.K.A. Talk is Cheap)

Taking a look at the top 10 New Year's resolutions (according to [couldn't find a better source]) are:

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Get Fit
  3. Manage Debt
  4. Save Money
  5. Get a Better Job
  6. Get a Better Education
  7. Drink Less Alcohol
  8. Quit Smoking Now
  9. Reduce Stress
  10. Take a Trip

Perhaps with the exception of number 10, all of these are incredibly ambiguous. I suppose number 8 attempts to put a timeline on it (albeit an immediate one). But there's no detail in these goals. How are you going to do this? How do you know when you've got your debt managed or lost enough weight?

More importantly we should look at why we want to do these things. Obviously they represent some shortcomings or something we think we should change. But how did we get to this point? We didn't incur a mountain of debt overnight (well, maybe some students or people with health problems did). For a majority of us these things represent stuff we've "put up with" or even worse just something we "think" we should change. We're asking ourselves to do something we don't truly want to do.Even if we do truly want to do this we still have to muster the willpower to overcome (quite possibly) years of bad habits. This requires a drastic change to our lifestyles and while it may have worked for some people millions of dieters, drug addicts, alcoholics and smokers can all attest that this type of change if fleeting at best.

So How do You Fix it?

Believe it or not, I'm not trying to suggest resolutions are bad. Self-improvement is a very laudable goal. Here are a few suggestions on how to achieve success and sustainability in your resolutions.

Set Long Term Organic Goals
– We all want change to happen overnight but it took awhile to get this way so it's going to take awhile to undo it.

Define, specifically, what you hope to accomplish
– having a detailed goal will help you do three things: allow you to break your goal into smaller "mini-goals" which are psychologically easier to swallow, provide a measuring stick to see how you are progressing, and define a limit so you know when you get to your goal.

Make a Plan and Stick To it – If you outline a plan with details on how you're going to accomplish your goal and when you are going to do each step you'll have direction and more motivation to go through with each step.

Write it out, Tell a friend (or a stranger) – Publicly announcing that we're going to do something make us feel accountable (nobody wants to look like a jackass). Writing it out, even if you don't show anyone, is a mini version of this; we'll feel more committed because we went to the trouble of writing it down.

Get Help – By nature we're social animals, so it helps to have help. And if it's an addictive habit like smoking, eating, spending/shopping, drugs, alcohol, there's been a chemical positive reinforcement (drug induced or brain chemistry) taking place and you're likely to go through withdrawal. Whether you just find a friend or join a support program, you'll have much more success to keeping your resolution.

The use of SMART goals is beneficial in making New Year's resolutions as it set specific objectives and helps in outlining a plan. You can read more on SMART goals here. If you keep focused and be reasonable you'll not only be able to achieve your New Year's resolution but also have a healthier more sustainable you.