For some people, January 1st marks the time they make their resolutions for the coming year. Most goals are set around self-improvement – exercise, diet or quitting bad habits. Often resolutions look strikingly similar to those from past years; it’s a pattern of unreached targets.
Some studies find that more than half of us don’t even stick to resolutions for even the first month. Perhaps this is why so many people fail to see the point in this exercise. Is there any real value in setting New Year’s resolutions?
In schools we talk about goal-setting almost daily. I think this can help inform our practice as it relates to resolutions. While failing to achieve the same goals year after year seems pointless, there is also a missed opportunity here.
Research cited in the Harvard Business Review finds that goal-setting is most effective when coupled with reflection (another common theme at good schools). As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. If the new year is a time when people take stock of the year that was, it really seems like the right time to set goals for the year ahead.
But setting goals is only one part.
Writer and blogger Tim Ferris believes he has cracked the code to motivating people to achieve their goals. His ideas are all about sticks and carrots. Sticks motivate people by avoiding an unpleasant outcome, while carrots provide a reward when targets are met. But for most people there is no adequate consequence for failure. Whether you respond to sticks and carrots, or need to set consequences, he also believes that people do not stay stagnant – you are either getting better or getting worse.
Psychologists point to another reason to embrace New Year’s resolutions: the start of a new year lets people wipe the slate clean, and makes it easier to reflect and set goals. Perhaps the better question is, “Why are we only making resolutions once a year?”
As I wrote at the beginning of the school year, September is a great time to reflect and look ahead. The blossoms of spring mark new beginnings, and can inspire positive change. Even the promise of a fresh week that Mondays bring can be a fine time to set small achievable goals.
Reflection and goal-setting are an important part of improving. So over the holidays, take some time to reflect, and set some specific goals for yourself for the days, weeks or months ahead. You don’t even have to label them.
Yours in goal-setting,