Every 31 December, as the year comes to a close, I generally find myself reflecting upon how my year has gone and what I’m looking forward to in the coming months. Yet no matter how hard I try to envisage what lies ahead, I must admit that every new year stands before me like a blank book, the pages of which remain there for me to fill in gradually as the days unfold. I guess like most people, I make resolutions: I pledge to get in fitter shape, declutter my home, maybe dedicate more time to reading, or for the greater part, become a better person.
A New Year’s resolution is a common tradition in the Western world. People resolve to change an undesired trait in their character or a particular behaviour; they promise that they will try to enhance their life by accomplishing a personal goal. They are convinced that this is the year when they’ll become more patient, give up eating carbs, go for a run every morning, or quit drinking. Yet, inevitably, three weeks into the new year, like me, many find themselves right back where they started. Indeed, by the time February rolls around, my own resolve to improve this and do that, is totally and utterly dissipated! According to a CNN News report, it’s only in very rare cases that these good intentions are retained for the whole year: in fact, it’s reported that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.
It seems that the odds are against us, but could it be that it’s because when setting New Year’s Resolutions, most of us tend to shoot for the moon? Do we resolve to reach unattainable goals? Make unrealistic changes? This could well be the case. In a self-help attempt, I googled “how to reach attainable goals” and a very interesting technique came up. It’s called “S.M.A.R.T.”. This seems to be a popular method for goal-setting in the world today. There are a number of variations of this technique but basically, the most common version states that a well-set goal should meet the following criteria: one’s goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based. Approaches to this technique include writing down the specific goal, determining tangible measures, and setting a deadline. If the goal involves other people, then they will need to know this too.
Of course, there are goals and goals. It’s one thing trying to achieve more success at the work place, for example, and a totally different kettle of fish to improve upon or change a long-ingrained behavioural trait. A friend who is trained in psychology tells me that the best approach to achieve this new level of equilibrium is not by trying to transform behaviour radically and immediately, but through small wins each day. Trying to change all at once could possibly lead to being pulled back into the same pattern as before. However, if the person focuses upon improving gradually on a daily basis, then the behaviour will adjust itself as naturally as a side effect.
So, now that the New Year is well on its way, and your sense of re-evaluation and retrospection may already be fading into the background, may I encourage you reconsider sticking with the list of important life-style changes you may have decided to pursue, because after all, New Year Resolutions are the perfect opportunity for us to start making some long-term transformations to improve our lives for the better.
This article was first published by Times of Malta.