The Difference Between New Years Resolutions & Goal Setting

By Maria Gisele Mello Murphy, BSW, MSW-RSW

Every year, many of us make a list of New Year’s resolutions; things we want to start doing or avoid doing, to improve ourselves. And many of us fail to accomplish some or all the resolutions in our list.

According to Reaume & Park (2018), 3 in 10 Canadians make resolutions, and 73% forget about them by March.

According to many sources, New Year’s resolutions are a tradition, found among many cultures, in which a person decides to accomplish a personal goal to improve their life. Sometimes the resolutions are to remove bad habits or to create positive ones. Often, either type of resolution is difficult to maintain. Even though the effort to adopt a resolution shows a positive attitude in starting your New Year, how you go about attaining success makes a big difference in how well you achieve it.

Studies on neuroscience link goal-setting techniques and life experience as a way turn resolutions into realities. According to research, goal setting is better than making resolutions.

For instance, a resolution is rigid (“I will stop eating junk food”), where goal setting is fluid (start with a small step and increase as you get accustomed to the change). Resolution can create a sense of failure due to its rigidity; where goal setting can give a sense of accomplishment as you achieve the small steps. If a resolution is too difficult, it can be dropped or forgotten; if a goal is too difficult, it can be adjusted to lead to the original result.

Resolutions are important and people who make them are ten times more successful in achieving their goals than those who do not (Steel & Weinhardt, 2015).

According to some studies, you can be successful in achieving your New Year’s resolution by setting goals.

Reaume & Park (2018) claim that you can be successful by using several strategies:

  1. Focusing on one goal
  2. Making your resolution specific
  3. Getting a partner
  4. Getting the right tools
  5. Keeping your goal personal

Other studies claim that to change day-to-day behavior, first, it is necessary to change how you think. Connecting your resolution to a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) has proven to make New Year’s resolutions more successful.

Changing behavior or habits is not easy, and it does not have to happen only at the start of the year. Accepting lapses is part of one’s process and one should not feel guilty, but rather learn from it. Keep in mind that positive changes can take a long time to become ingrained.

Happy New Year from the staff and clinicians at Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County!