10 most popular new year resolutions and how to improve them

As one year comes to a close we spend time thinking about all the great things that happened, but also all the things that we wish we had done. As we look forward to the new year, it is therefore very common for us to make resolutions for the coming 12 months, in the hope of making the next year better than the last.

Funnily enough, the vast majority of us make the same resolutions, and the within a week a third of us have abandoned them. Within a month, fifty percent of people have given up on their new year resolutions. By six months, there are only about a third of people who are still at it.

Let’s have a look at what the most popular new year resolutions are (in the United States). If one of these is one your list, we’ll also suggest what you could do to make it more likely that you stick to your goal.

1. Diet/Eat Healthier

Eating healthier, usually but not always to lose weight (see below) is by far the most popular resolution that people in the U.S., especially women, make on new year. However, it is a tricky one to eat, as what exactly does eating better mean? This varies a lot from person to person. It is also difficult because food is such an important part of our social interactions, that the cost of saying no to certain things is higher than we think.

Better than vowing to eat better is to give yourself a specific food related target. If sugary beverages are your vice, vow to stop drinking soft drinks and replace with water. If late night snacking is your thing, say that you won’t eat (at home) after a certain hour. These are specific resolutions that you can keep, and there is no need to get on the slippery slope of “cheat days” when your mother’s birthday rolls around.

2. Exercise More

While getting healthy is always on people’s minds, it seems to be particularly strong at new year, probably at least in part due to the decadence of the Christmas season, and the cold weather and break from routine that can throw us off course. But many people fail at getting more exercise because they position it in their head as a chore. Going to the gym three nights a week is seen as a punishment, or a debt owed, rather than something to look forward to.

The secret to getting more exercise is to choose a form of exercise that you want to do. Sign up to a class with friends on the same mission, enrol in a dance class or a martial arts class and learn skills that you have always been interested in. If you find something you enjoy, it will be much easier to encourage yourself to go along, and you will start to think of it as something you want to do, rather than paying a resolution debt. But still be strict with yourself in your commitment!

3. Lose Weight

More than 50 percent of people who make new year’s resolutions resolve to lose weight, but this is another tough on. How much weight will you lose? Is the goal you have in mind realistic, or are you just setting yourself up for failure and disappointment? How specifically will you lose weight? Do you have a plan, or are you just going to try and ‘be better’? All of these factors make this a difficult goal to reach!

When it comes to this goal, the first thing is not to be too stringent with yourself about exactly how much weight you will lose, since it is very unpredictable. If heavy exercise is part of your weight loss plan, due to muscle accumulation you might find yourself gaining a bit of weight, even though you are looking and feeling better. Better to choose something like fitting into a pair of old jeans that you love and are now a bit too tight (but make sure they are yours, and not a ridiculously small pair of jeans that you bought at the shops). The next thing to do is focus on the how rather than the destination. Set food and exercise goals like the ones above. If you stick to them, you will also see your weight loss gains.

4. Save More and Spend Less

The Christmas season can also be a reminder that we need to do better with money, especially as we overspend a little on our loved ones, or struggle to cover the cost of some of the festive essentials. But again, making a vague promise to save more and spend less is setting yourself up to fail, as what exactly does that mean? You need to have specific goals that you can tick off as being met, rather than judging for yourself whether you have done your best.

When it comes to saving, calculate what you should be spending and see how much you have left to save, and then choose how much to save each month. Rather than waiting to the end of the month and putting it aside if you have it, transfer it into a separate savings account on payday like it is a bill. Once it is saved, its saved, and you are less likely to touch it for whimsical spending. When it comes to spending less, identify exactly where it is that you can cut back. Fancy coffees daily, a penchant to go through a nice bottle of wine with dinner at home, too many trips to the shops. Identify where you won’t be spending and set a specific goal.

5. Learn A New Skill

Learning a new skill is a great resolution, as it is something that we are giving ourselves, rather than depriving ourselves as is often the case. Still, many of us struggle to keep this goal. For some, it is finding the time. For others, when you haven’t really learnt something from scratch in a long time, feeling like a beginner again can be very disheartening and challenging.

In order to make sure you succeed with this new goal, carve out time for it and make that time sacred. If you will be participating in a class, great, that’s easy. If it is something you will be doing alone, that is harder. But once you have identified the time, don’t cancel for anything but the most important emergencies. Treat it like you would your job, you need to have a good reason not to show up. Then it is up to you to get back into the growth mindset, where failure means an opportunity to learn, rather than that you aren’t cut out for something. Our modern working world teaches us to hide our failures, but when learning something new, we need to embrace failing forward.

6. Quit Smoking

Considering how harmful smoking is both to your own health, and the people around you, this is an excellent resolution. Plus, it is an expensive habit. If you were thinking of adding saving money to your resolution list, quitting smoking will be a helpful first step! But nicotine is addictive, and smoking is social, so it is incredibly hard to quit.

As well as following all the excellent advice that is out there for quitting smoking, make sure you identify your triggers. Is there a certain time of day when you crave a cigarette? Can you replace that smoking ritual with another? Are you a social smoker? Can you avoid those situations, or invest in something like e-cigarettes so you don’t feel left out? Have a plan for how you will continue when you fall off the wagon, as is bound to happen during the quitting process.

7. Read More

Read more is another resolution that is great because it is about giving yourself something, rather than taking something away. But again, if you aren’t in the habit of reading, and you are a busy person, this can be a hard one to keep.

Often, we don’t feel like we have enough time to read as we are busy doing other things, like, let’s admit it, watching TV, or Netflix, of whatever. To make the time to read, we need to limit our time watching. Think about banning yourself from casual Netflix browsing and limiting yourself to shows you really like, and finish one before starting another. It can also be a good idea to give yourself a daily episode limit! Then choose something that you really want to read, and isn’t too challenging. You want to read more because you want to understand the classics? Start with Jane Austen, not Dostoevsky. The Bible is a great book that many people want to know better, but it is not a light book for those who aren’t accustomed to reading.

8. Find A New Job

People generally give this resolution when they hate their existing job, or they think that they are ready for a new challenge, which are two very different situations. If you are in the first mindset, you need to try and get into the second mindset, as you want to find a new job that you like, and not one that you will be making the same resolution about the following year.

This is another resolution where it is a good idea to focus on the process rather than the end result, which can be very unpredictable. Give yourself a number of job applications that you need to send out per month. If you lack certain skills that would help you get the job you are looking for, resolve to acquire those skills through training or volunteering. If you aren’t sure why you aren’t making the progress that you would like, yet yourself a professional mentor.

9. Drink Less Alcohol

Drinking less is another resolution that is often at the front of our minds following the decadence of Christmas and New Year. It is also another difficult one because it is often less about the alcohol itself, and more about the social interactions that are associated with them.

If you have regular drinking buddies with a regular drinking night, you need to see what you can do to change that situation. Either absent yourself, or convince everyone to make a chance, switching to something like games night. It is also a good idea to set yourself strict rules about when it is OK to drink and when it isn’t. For example, you don’t drink on weekdays, or before 6pm in the evening.

10. Spend More Time With Family & Friends

This lovely resolution is again a hard one to keep because it is vague. What exactly does it mean? When will you know that you have spent ‘more time’? Also, it does not address how you are going to do it. Clearly it is not a lack of desire that is holding you back, but rather a lack of time or mechanisms.

Again, move from a vague goal to specific goals. Is there a certain family member you want to be closer to? Resolve to call them once a week. Is there a group of friends that you want to see more often? Resolve to organise a monthly movie night or potluck. And put the onus on you to reach out and connect, rather than just saying that you will say yes when others call. This is your resolution, it is up to you to make sure that it happens.

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