Are New Year's Resolutions a Waste of Time?

Hayley Panagakis

28 December 2018

As the new year approaches, people everywhere take time to reflect on the 12 months that have passed them by. They think about their achievements and failures, and consider what they’d like to do differently over the next 365 days. New Year’s is a time of self-reflection, meditation and planning as we make resolutions for the year to come and define clear expectations that will guide us to being the best versions of ourselves.

“In 2019, I will spend less time in front of a screen.”

“I will stop procrastinating.”

“I will work less and spend more time with my family.”

“I will go to the gym and eat healthier.”

Any of these sound familiar? Resolutions are made with the best of intentions—we see negative habits and behaviors within ourselves and strive to make a change for the better—but are they really effective?

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and the recently published Tribe of Mentors, is notorious for his thoughts on New Year’s resolutions: He doesn’t believe in them. He once said, “The problem with New Year's resolutions—and resolutions to 'get in better shape' in general, which are very amorphous—is that people try to adopt too many behavioral changes at once. It doesn't work. I don't care if you're a world-class CEO—you'll quit.” TWEET

The issue with New Year’s resolutions comes when we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves—those that demand we magically, somehow overnight, form new habits and adhere to them with perfection. And when we inevitably falter in these all-new habits of ours, we eventually give up on them entirely. In the case of the ‘get healthy’ resolution that tops many people’s lists year after year, setting unrealistic expectations is the reason why gyms are their busiest in January but get calmer as the year goes on.

Instead of making lofty resolutions, set actionable goals for yourself that you can work on throughout the year that build up to an overarching resolution. There’s nothing wrong with setting New Year’s resolutions, but the key to ensuring they’re achievable and truly worth your time pursuing is pairing them with goals that will help you form new habits. Don’t make a resolution to hit up the gym every day if you haven’t been in months. Set a goal to go to the gym once a week in January, then twice in February, and so on. Start small and work your way up to your larger, everyday goal.

And if you’re looking for a new end-of-year tradition that’s as reflective and meditative as setting resolutions, consider taking part in #OneWord365. For this exercise, think of one word that sums up what kind of leader you’d like to be in 2019. For me, that word is #present. My husband and I welcomed our first child into the world two short months ago. As a working mother, I want to establish the good habit of staying present in all I do: I want to remain present in my marriage, in my parenting and in the workplace to ensure all of these important areas of my life get the energy they deserve from me.

Instead of assigning yourself with a list of unrealistic resolutions, the One Word example gives you a simple, thematic reminder of how you want to better yourself over the course the year. Although this may go against the “SMART” goal-setting structure, as a leader it’s important to remember we set the tone for our followers: Maybe instead of proving we can push ourselves to overambitious goals that realize immediate success, we should show that we, as humans, are a work in progress.

What word describes what kind of leader you want to be in 2019? Tell us on Twitter at @Leadercast.

Hayley Panagakis

This blog was written by Hayley Panagakis, a freelance writer, editor and content creator. Connect with her on LinkedIn and visit her website to learn more about her services.

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