Your Guide to Making Good New Year's Resolutions
So. The first week of January – the first of the new year has come to an end. Though not much time has passed, this may be the best time to take a moment and reflect: how has the year been so far? Is there any noticeable difference from the past year, or is it perhaps just more of the same? Did you make New Year’s resolutions yet? And how are those going? With all the viral challenges and trends, perhaps making resolutions seems unnecessary – just a fad that people do at the beginning of the New Year but then quickly neglect and forget. I’m here to tell you otherwise.
New Year’s Resolutions are extremely important to your overall health and well-being. Why the New Year though? Why not just any time of the year?
Well it is true that you can (and probably should) make resolutions at any time of the year, this time - when the old year changes over into the new year - is a special time. In the first place, it’s a new beginning – the whole world together as one resets itself, so to speak. It’s a chance to start fresh. In some ways, the expression ‘New Year, new me is true. This year, you will assuredly become one year older; hopefully, one year wiser, maybe even one year richer. That is entirely up to you. In a video the other day, a lady noted how the holidays, but most especially these winter holidays, almost serve as a checkpoint for us – where we reconnect with family and friends, comparing notes on the past year: all we’ve experienced, all that we’ve lost, all that we’ve gained. In this way, New Years is the perfect time to look back, reflect on what’s happened over what we’ve learned, what mistakes we’ve made, what goals we’ve accomplished in the past year; then, to look ahead to what things you’d like to achieve, what areas you want to progress in, what things you’d like to fix over the New Year.
The fitness and health industries, while riddled with problems outside the scope of this article, are based on the principle that our bodies, like the rest of the universe, tend toward chaos, towards decomposition. This, they will tell you, is why you need to exercise: to combat the natural deterioration of your body and maintain a range of motion that you can comfortably and safely perform; essentially, use it to improve it or you will eventually lose it. A clear analogy can be drawn between this fitness principle and New Years' resolutions. Without any resolutions, there is no way to keep yourself accountable, to measure yourself against a standard, so to speak. Eventually, we will become lax and lose purpose in our life, leading to anxiety, depression, and worse. Yet, if we make a resolution, there’s a standard that we can come back to every day of the year.
By now, you’re probably wondering how you should go about making good resolutions. What things should I focus on? How do I actually make sure I progress over the next year so that I don’t find myself making the same resolutions next year? Here are some tips on making good, successful New Years resolutions:
First off, make SMART goals. Not only should your goals be smart – changes that will actually matter and make a difference in your life, but they should also be S.M.A.R.T. S.M.A.R.T. is a popular acronym in the fitness industry, and it stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time.
Specific – this just means that your resolution should be clear and concise. Not something general like ‘Become financially stable’ or ‘Get into shape’. Your resolution needs to be more exact as in ‘Pay off all my debts and have $2000 in savings’ or ‘Weigh 200 lbs and bench 225 lbs.’ These latter resolutions are clear; they have a definitive goal. In contrast, not only are the first less clear, but they are also more hesitant – more hopeful than resolute.
Measurable – you need to have some form of measurement to be able to compare yourself to your goals. This will both help you know when you have attained your objective and also serve as a point of comparison for you until you have achieved that target. Typically, specific and measurable go hand in hand – the more specific a goal is, the easier it is to measure.
Attainable – it’s important to have realistic resolutions. Committing to a resolution like ‘Will do one hour of mental prayer a day’ or ‘Will lose 50 lbs in the next three months’ – these goals are unreasonable and beyond your reach, especially if you are starting from ground level in those areas. Rather, make manageable goals such as ‘Will do ten minutes of mental prayer every day’ or ‘Will lose ten pounds over the next four months’ Now, you might be telling yourself: that’s waaaaay too easy. But the hard part is not in the resolution itself, it is in the commitment – being able to stick to that goal for however long you set. Something else that is super important, and which a lot of people tend to forget is how this new habit will fit into your lifestyle and daily routine. The harder it is to bring a new practice into your day, the less likely you are going to be motivated enough to break your normal routine for the sake of this new habit. So, while you should want to challenge yourself, make sure your new resolution does not completely clash with your current habits. Maybe that can be a long-term goal for you (something you want to achieve in three or five years' time) but for now: Keep It Simple Stupid!
Relevant – this ties back into the attainable concept. A good example would be a person who wants to save up $10,000 but still has $15,000 of student loan debt. If he were to try only saving up money and ignoring his debt, Dave Ramsey would say he’s crazy. Yes, it is possible for the man to save a little and pay off all his debts at the same time. However, his best option would be to re-evaluate his life, make cuts in those areas where he doesn’t need to spend money, and pay off his debts first. If your objective is not relevant to your current situation, you will begin to think of your resolutions as unattainable and inevitably abandon them altogether. Again, it’s good to have long-term targets of where you want to be in ten or fifteen years but the best way to achieve those goals is through small incremental steps toward that ideal. And if you crush those small objectives faster than you anticipated, then reward yourself and set the bar higher. Chances are the more you see yourself progressing in life, the more you will want to challenge yourself to get better in every way you can.
Finally, Time – this is a big one because it requires good judgment and consideration. First, it’s extremely important to give yourself enough time to accomplish your goals. For instance, the previous example of the resolution to lose 50 pounds in three months. While this is a crazy and unhealthy goal for a span of three months, perhaps it’s not so impossible if it were a twelve-month goal. However, on the flip side, it’s important that you don’t allow yourself too much time. Again, long-term goals, whether those be one year or longer, are important to track overall progress, but it’s important to focus on the here and now. Make year-long goals for sure, but perhaps you can break that overall objective up into several smaller goals. Or you can set some ‘weigh-in’ dates where you check up to see how you have done over the last few months, and see what you need to fix in the upcoming weeks. It will be different for every person. However, it’s important to remember that, although it’s good to set challenging goals (and it feels amazing when you can crush those), for most people most of the time, it’s that daily commitment to those goals you set three or seven months ago that will be the hardest struggle.
Also, take note that it’s important to do some research in order to help you attain those goals you want to achieve. With the internet and social media, it’s easier now than ever to find professionals who know what they are talking about and can help you reach your targets. Anyway, Now that we’ve seen how to set SMART goals, let’s take a quick look at the kind of goals you should set, or rather the areas that you can look to improve in.
First and foremost - the spiritual life. As Catholics, our first duty in life is to God: our ultimate goal is His glory and our salvation. As Uncle Ben tells Peter: “With great power comes great responsibility.” By our baptism, we’ve become children of God and heirs to Heaven. What greater power is there? And therefore, what greater responsibility do we have to take care of our souls and become closer to God? I know, it’s very preachy, but in all seriousness – if that part of your life is not properly aligned, then eventually everything else will fail and you will reach the end of your life and realize all that hard work was for nothing. So, start here. Maybe it’s being consistent in your morning and night prayers, saying daily rosary, daily spiritual reading, or ten minutes of mental prayer. Whatever it is, take your spiritual life seriously enough to make it a priority. And if you need to, join groups such as the Third Order or Acies, where the support of the members will keep you accountable to your goals and help you achieve them.
From there, the next area you should look to improve in is the ‘trinity’, so to speak, of the body. These are (in no specific order) the mental, physical, and social aspects of our lives. These areas work as a set because, without a healthy balance of all three, your overall health will flatline. Additionally, they overlap each other, and progress in one area typically calls for small changes in the other areas as well. For example, do you suffer from periods of anxiety and depression? Well, perhaps you need to start exercising, or you need to exercise more regularly. Or maybe you need to stop watching Netflix and playing video games and go out, meet new people, and do more socializing. Perhaps you want to have better, healthier relationships with people. Maybe that requires you to reduce your time at the gym from five days a week to three days a week. Or it involves you reading a book or the news, expanding your areas of interest and knowledge so that you have more things to talk about with other people, more ways to build connections, and more interests you can both relate to. Overall, it’s important to maintain a good balance between each of these areas, and while it may be difficult for those less motivated to do something in those areas every day, perhaps making a goal to work on each aspect of the ‘trinity’ over a week-long period is something that’s more feasible for you.
Finally, the more personal area: that of education or work. As I said at the beginning, it’s important to always improve: to improve your mind, your body, your spiritual life at the risk of losing it if you don’t. This then should also apply to your education or work, depending on your current state of life. Man should always be learning in life, always progressing, and we should examine our own education and work to see if we are still actually learning in those areas. Or have we given in to the monotonous routine of the modern work week, where our sole focus is the one night and two days that bookend those other five days of plain old work? Maybe it’s time to rekindle an interest in what we do, to take the time and opportunity to learn more about our specific job and how it relates to the company overall. Perhaps, we could grow our skill set by learning some new task, or concept, or enrolling in a different class. There’s always room to expand, and if your work or education is not challenging or interesting to you, then you need to find a way to challenge yourself in those areas. If you really hate your job and feel stuck, maybe it's time to challenge yourself to see what other options are out there.
In closing, here are some practical tips on putting your resolutions into action:
First, make a set number of resolutions that equals or is below five. Again, looking forward through the year, fifty-two weeks is not that long of a period and will, in reality, pass by very quickly. Yet, the more resolutions we make, the more things we will have to remember to do each day. This increases the odds that those resolutions are eventually abandoned and, at the beginning of 2024, we’ll find ourselves still in our current situation or even a few steps behind. Five resolutions or goals allow you to adequately cover each area and make great overall improvement in your life.
Secondly, WRITE IT DOWN. Writing down your objectives for the year (and even your additional short-term goals throughout the year) is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. If you remember nothing else from this article except this, but you go write your resolutions in big, bold letters on a poster that you tack up onto your bedroom wall, you will make progress over this year in some regard. You might not achieve those goals per se, but that sign will be there every morning when you wake up and every night when you go to bed to remind you where you’re headed. In addition to that, it’s probably good to have a clear ‘why’ set out as well. Having a purpose behind your goals can help with motivation and keeping yourself disciplined in the future.
Finding a support group is also a great idea. Get a group of friends who are also driven to improve their lives. Share your goals with them, and keep each other accountable. Not only is this a great way to build better relationships, but it also increases your chances of success, since you’ve committed publicly to these goals and, in a way, staked your reputation on it.
Lastly, mentality. Having a good, positive mentality is key to success. Perhaps, three months from now you wake up and realize that you missed the three-month short-term goal you set today. Then, get back up, renew the drive you had when you made that resolution, and get back at it. Examine what happened over those three months. What kept you from your goals? What made you fall short? Answer honestly, and then adjust your plan accordingly. But most importantly, did you make any progress at all? If so, take the time to celebrate that accomplishment and show yourself that it is possible and that, in the end, it is so worth the time, pain, effort, sweat, and tears that you put in. One final word on mentality – don’t use your goals as a point to compare yourself to where you want to be but rather as a written statement of what you are. I know this sounds completely contrary to what I said before but give me a moment. The point here is to use your goals to set a mentality. For example, if my resolution is to run every day of the year, there’s a big difference between telling myself ‘I am a person who wants to run every day of 2023’ and ‘I am a person who runs every day of 2023.’ The difference is a change in mentality – the first person is someone who wants to accomplish something; the latter is someone who will accomplish something because they’ve defined themselves by that goal. The first guy will fall short of his goals. Why? Because his mentality sucks. He wants to run every day, but it’s nothing more than that. At the end of the year, he looks back and says “Well, I tried.” On the other hand, the second person is going to achieve his goals. Why? Because he wants them so much that he’s made them a part of himself. He's altered who he is to incorporate those changes he needs to get where he wants to be. Not only is his language more ‘resolution worthy’ but he’s changed his mindset. This is important because once you are in that mindset, your habits will start to align themselves easier with that mentality. Now, that second man gets up every day at five am to go running because that’s who he is: a runner. You can still use your goals as a point of comparison to determine how much farther or closer you are to achieving them throughout the year, or whatever period you’ve chosen. But your mentality is different, your perspective is changed, your habits are improved; you are progressing.
One last word of advice from former Marine and famous author Jocko Willink. In an interview, he said:
“Those days, when I’m tired or worn out, or just basically sick of the grind. What do I do on those days? I go anyways. I get it done. Even if I’m just going through the motions, I go through the motions.”
One of the most fundamental principles that he talks and writes about is the idea that ‘Discipline must come from within.’ Nobody is going to be there forcing you to level up every day, to fulfill the resolutions you’ve made, to progress in your life. You can surround yourself with a support group to encourage you, but in the end, ‘Discipline comes from within’ and you must force yourself to do the hard work and give it your all. Jocko Willink is only one of several speakers and writers who can help you improve mentally, physically, and even spiritually; Jordan Peterson and James Clear are a few more, but there are several out there. You only have to look around, and you’ll find them.
Nunc Coepi, the title of this blog, means 'Now I Begin'. I can assure you that it won't be easy to stick to your resolutions, but, if you slip and fail, remember that every day, every hour, every minute is a chance to begin again, to start fresh. You only need to make it happen.
God bless and best of luck in 2023!