January 15, 2017 in Psychology

Every year we get swept into the excitement of the potential a new year can bring. All the changes we want to make in life somehow get shelved until this annual turning point—New Year’s Day. If you long to make changes in your life but find that you never follow through with your lofty January goals, I’d like you to consider a new way of implementing change. Let’s look at three common New Year’s Resolutions, how they usually fail, and what you can do to make them actually succeed.

Here are the three common resolutions:

1. Be happier

2. Improve my relationship with [whomever]

3. Exercise more

Let’s break these resolutions down and look at where they go wrong.


Be Happier

It seems so simple, right?Just be happier. The problem with this resolution is that it can feel intangible.Sure, it sounds simple, but happiness is not just a switch. You can’t turn it on and off at will. But increased happiness is achievable. It helps to break this resolution down into a more specific goal: Find simple joys.

Life is made up of small moments strung together. The next time you find yourself muddling through a period of unhappiness, create a small moment of simple joy. Put on your favorite uplifting song and spend the whole four minutes attending to each musical note. Or take two minutes to jot down three simple things you are grateful for, like the sunrise you saw on your drive to work or the smile from a stranger that came at just the right moment that day. When you create these small moments on a regular basis, you will begin to recognize opportunities to create yet more moments of joy. This simple practice is a great way to, yes, be happier.


Improve My Relationship with [Whomever]

We all have people in our lives with whom we wish we had a better relationship. Whether it’s your spouse,your child, a relative, or friend, this resolution often ends up on the list year after year. And sometimes, we approach the task with vigor—you invite your friend to every outing you plan in January in an attempt to reach out more,only to feel resentful when that friend doesn’t meet your enthusiasm in the same way. Or you plan an all-day outing to Busch Gardens to spend more time with your son, but the stress of planning your weekend around this exhausting endeavor only leaves you both cranky.

Instead of throwing yourself head first into prioritizing this relationship at all costs, consider that even the smallest attempts at connection, when they occur on a regular basis, can have the biggest impact on a relationship. Forget Busch Gardens—sit down and play a game of Go Fish with your son on Wednesday night even when your night is already full. That ten minutes you set aside regularly will mean more to him than a stressful day at the park. And invite that friend to grab a cup of coffee so you catch up. Be sure to ask her about her life and really listen to her when she talks.

Again, it’s the small moments and small ways we consistently reach out that can have the biggest impact.


Exercise More

You know this resolution well. We all do. Exercise more, join the gym, try Pilates—whatever your version, it’s on your list. And often, we head to the gym three times a week for the first two weeks of January, maybe even the whole month. Come February,life settles into its old routine and your dumbbells begin to collect dust.

The same rule applies here—don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you want to exercise more, start small. Take a ten-minute walk after dinner. Park at the end of the parking lot while you shop. Do some lunges or squats while you brush your teeth. Maybe even attend a weekly exercise class. If you really like it, maybe it will lead to more. But please, don’t enroll in a daily butt-kicking boot camp because you know it’s the only way you will get any exercise done. The chances of following through on such a drastic change to your routine are slim. Start small and build your way up. That’s how you create real change.