New Year’s Resolutions—Are they worth the bother?

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of goal-setting and talk about steps we can take to set ourselves up for success in achieving our goals.


The first of the year marks a time of celebration and reflection. As the ball drops and glasses are raised, millions of people look ahead with hope at all the fresh possibilities the New Year brings. Whether you are someone who usually makes New Year’s Resolutions or you are considering making one for the first time this year, goal-setting can be a powerful tool for personal growth. When crafted thoughtfully, goals can act as a roadmap to personal and professional achievement.

There are even some physiological benefits to setting specific goals, including increased motivation, focus and sense of purpose. Despite these benefits and our best intentions, at least half of us who create New Year’s Resolutions will have abandoned them within the first few months. In this article, we will review some of the benefits of goal-setting, how to be intentional with our resolutions and steps to set ourselves up for success in achieving our goals.

Crafting intentional resolutions

To ensure our resolutions stick, it is crucial to learn from our mistakes. Take a moment to reflect on your accomplishments and the challenges of the past year. What can you learn from your past experiences?

Many people repeat the same resolution year after year. If this is you, think carefully about what did not work last year and what did. Visualize what you would like to accomplish and consider what small steps you will need to take to get there.

Effective goal-setting strategies

The SMART framework has become a standard in the business and coaching world for a reason—goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. And while no system is one-size-fits-all, using a structured approach to goal-setting will yield better results.

For instance, changing the vague resolution to “exercise more” into a more specific, measurable goal like, “I plan to lift weights three times per week,” removes the ambiguity. The target is clear and quantifiable so you can track your progress along the way.

Focus on the target

Goals should be challenging but realistic. Studies have shown that individuals who are provided with specific, difficult but attainable goals perform better than those who are given nonspecific goals (or no goals). Think about ways to break larger, longer-term goals into smaller, more manageable tasks. This not only makes the journey less daunting, but also helps you stay accountable. Instead of “I want to complete my entire question bank before taking boards,” it could be “I want to complete 40 questions per day over the next two weeks.” Achieving some short-term goals more quickly provides an earlier sense of accomplishment and can help fuel your motivation as you then tackle bigger tasks.

Write it all down

Once you have a goal in mind, write it down! Whether it is in a journal, on a sticky note, or on your phone, recording goals solidifies them. A study conducted by psychologist Gail Matthews at the Dominican University in California found that people who wrote down their goals were 33% more successful in achieving them compared to those that just set intentions (internalized) or did not make goals at all. Bonus points if you put it somewhere where you will see it regularly, like your bathroom mirror.

The power of deadlines

Deadlines can provide structure and a kick of urgency. People naturally take their foot off the gas when it feels like there is ample time available. A clear deadline can prompt individuals to manage their time efficiently and actually improve the effectiveness of goals. Set regular dates to reassess your progress and adjust course as needed.

Overcoming challenges  

Research shows it can take between 18 and 254 days for behaviors to become habit (the median is 60 days). That leaves plenty of time for the distractions of life to knock you off course. As you consider the next few weeks to months, try to anticipate what some major roadblocks might look like. Anticipating potential pitfalls before they derail your progress could save you frustration down the road.

For instance, if you find it is hard to get to the gym once you have made it home to your comfy couch, maybe pack your exercise clothes with you and drive straight to the gym after work. Eliminate that pit stop at home where you are getting stuck.

Perhaps you prefer to study in the evenings, but this is when you have committed to spending time with your family or preparing dinner—this may not be a realistic time for you to get those questions done. In this case, you may need to think about how to make time first thing in the morning, how to effectively use breaks or be resigned to doing questions much later at night after your non-negotiable commitments are completed.  

Self-control can be a limited resource and one that is quickly depleted on a day-to-day basis. Altering habits around food, exercise, studying, etc., requires individuals to exert quite a bit of it. It can take careful planning to figure out how to conserve this finite resource.

Believe in yourself 

It sounds cheesy, but it is true! Here are two steps you can take to strengthen your self-confidence.  Think about other times you have triumphed in your efforts toward a similar goal. List some people who are similar to you who have succeeded at something comparable. This exercise has been studied and can lead to significantly higher goal progress over a five-month period.

Do not let self-doubt get in your way.

New year, more accomplished you

This year, let your New Year’s Resolutions be more than just tradition. Whether you are helping a patient make lifestyle changes or setting your own resolutions as an act of self-improvement, with a little structure, these goals can become a framework for success.

Cheers to a healthy, purposeful New Year!

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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