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3 Great Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions for Sustained Health and Happiness

New Year's Resolutions often set people up for failure. These alternatives to new year's resolutions are the actual path to a happy, healthy new year.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

If you're a human being on planet Earth, there's a good chance that as one calendar year has ended and a new one has begun, you've participated in a longstanding, widely-held tradition: to set a new year's resolution (or maybe several). Studies show that year after year, nearly a quarter of the population creates a ton of resolutions that they hope will inspire change in their lives. And, then again, year after year, research shows that the vast majority abandon their resolutions within just days of adopting them. Still, despite their regular failure, people rarely think to focus on alternatives to new year's resolutions as January 1 approaches. Instead, they continue to choose giant goals that are stressful and uncomfortable, and they continuously set themselves up for failure.

Luckily, however, even if you can't get a resolution to stick, you don't have to simply throw up your hands and decide you're just not a person who can intentionally change your life. Instead, you can check out our below list of 3 creative alternatives to new year's resolutions, which offers you several techniques for changing your daily life in a manageable way: within a timeframe that's doable, and at a pace that you can keep up with.

When it comes to making life upgrades that stick, sustainability is key—and the following alternatives to new year's resolutions are ones that you can tackle without worrying about how much they'll challenge, exhaust, or intimidate you; you can simply rest assured in knowing they're going to make your next year a better one.

3 Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions

You're probably used to reaching December each year and thinking of a big sweeping change you want to make come January 1. And then, once the calendar page turns to January, you start trying to implement your big resolution. This can look many ways: from completely overhauling your diet to committing to adopting a brand new habit you plan to use every single day.

It makes sense you'd want to start a new, life-altering behavior at a time-based milestone (i.e. the new year). In reality, however, attempting drastic change all at once is actually one of the hardest ways to successfully achieve change that lasts—since becoming overwhelmed is a perfect recipe for resignation. There are much easier and healthier ways you can create significant improvements in your life without suffering to do it, including these 3 ideas below.

Approach it from a "Bucket List" Perspective

Instead of setting one goal you need to work to reach, make a list of activities or behaviors you want to experience or accomplish in the new year. As you go through the year, tick things off the list. This is one of the best alternatives to new year's resolutions in terms of making you feel accomplished, because at the end of the year, if you've done everything on your list, you can not only count yourself lucky to have had such a rich, diverse set of experiences, but also see that you clearly made a commitment to do something—and completed it.

Make a List of Things You Are Excited About or Looking Forward to

Another way to get yourself looking ahead to the new year without immense pressure is to create a list of all the things you're excited about in the year ahead. When you get everything you're looking forward to down on paper, you can create joy within yourself just by looking at it—and you can also give yourself motivation to get work done or hit the gym because you want to be at your best for these exciting, long-awaited events.

Do a 365-day Project

Pick an area of your life you've wanted to do more in—then start a 365-day project in it. Pick a really small, doable activity that you can definitely accomplish every day. Are you an aspiring photographer? Take one photo a day that you post to an Instagram channel that can grow a following. Do you love to write? Write a 5 line short story every single day of the year. At the end of the 365 days, you'll have an immense manuscript of your own making. Love to jog? Commit to running for 10 minutes 365 days this year. Log all the locations of your runs in an app.

Why Resolutions Don't Last

So many people make resolutions, and so many fail to keep them—and quickly. In fact, a recent study showed that in any given year, 80 percent of people have dropped their resolution by the second week of February. When humans used AI to interpret behavior regarding new year's resolutions, the computer determined the date that people are most likely to give up their resolutions is actually earlier than that February date: most people will have quit trying to make their resolution stick by January 19.

So, why is it that new year's resolutions just don't last for some people?

The resolution is too vague: Humans need really specific, concrete goals to latch onto when they're working for something so they know what they're working for. When goals are vague rather than specific, ("I just want to get fitter" vs "I want to be able to lift 100 lbs") it's easy to give up on them, because it's hard to measure if you're really moving towards your goal (or not) in the first place.

The new habit isn't performed consistently at the same time: if you are trying to adopt a new habit, the most effective way to get it to stick is to do it at the same time every day—and to connect it to a daily habit you already have. For example, if your resolution is to floss your teeth every day, make yourself floss your teeth every morning after you brush them. Eventually, your brain will connect the two activities and flossing will become automatic.

They don't set themselves up for success: You can't wait until January 1 to start getting ready to stick to your resolution. You need to prepare yourself for success before the day arrives. Get all the equipment, clothing, books, subscriptions, teachers, classes, etc. ready so you can start when it's time to start. Any friction you create that slows yourself down may end up stopping yourself completely.

How to Recover From Failed Resolutions and Get Back on the Wagon

No one likes to fail a resolution or to have given up on something early. But, if you did, it doesn't matter the date: it's not too late for you. See if you can shift your goal to fit into one of the above frameworks or alternatives to new year's resolutions, and you can slowly but surely see it come to life. Did you decide to walk 10,000 steps every day, but give up on the day it was cold out and you didn't feel like getting up off the couch? Make your goal a little more reasonable (say, 5,000 steps), and then turn it into a 365-day project, starting an online blog chronicling all the places you walk in your town.

Alternatively, if you wanted to call friends more as a resolution, but never picked up the phone, consider making a list of all the things you have to look forward to—then inviting a separate friend to any big events that are on the list. If you can rework your goals into better alternatives to new year's resolutions, you can accomplish them in more effective and painless ways—and ensure you have an excellent, fruitful, and joyful year, every time a new one arrives.


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