Resolutions, notorious for coming to a screeching halt about mid-February, can start with the best of intentions and end up leaving you feeling like a failure. Avoid that dread, and still accomplish the changes you'd like to see, by shunning resolutions altogether and changing your strategy on long-term choices.

By Hayley Sugg
December 20, 2016
Photo: Tetra Images / Getty

January seems to be the month of false promises to one's self. People, either sheepishly or with bravado, announce their resolutions to make this year a better year. With high hopes to lose weight, work on their love life, or maybe go for that big office promotion, many start with the best of intentions and quickly burn out.

So why is it that many of us set ourselves up for what often turns out to be a failure? 

It's easy to get swept up in the idea of transforming yourself in the upcoming year. After all, the beginning of a new calendar year marks a figurative and literal rebirth, a chance to begin again. And while this idea is admirable, it's not always feasible. Instead of making huge resolutions that are hard to attain in a year's time, let alone the first few months when you want to see progress, choose to focus on making goals, not resolutions.

1. Set Specific Goals (But No Timeline).

Setting goals might sound similar to setting resolutions, but it all comes down to the mindset. Evaluate what you'd like to see change in your life, whether short or long-term. Maybe it's going vegetarian, reading more books, losing a few extra pounds, saving more money, or just being more mindful of the way you treat your body. Set a tangible and concrete goal, such as "eat my daily servings of fruits and vegetables," "cook dinner at home four nights per week," or "exercise 30 minutes three nights," instead of a more abstract one like "get healthy." And don't pressure yourself to have it done by a certain time. Let the changes, as gradual as they may be, come naturally. Stressing out over not meeting your goals in 90 days is more likely to make you give up than continue at it.

2. Measure by Milestones.

The key difference between setting resolutions and setting goals is that the journey towards accomplishing a goal includes milestones, while resolutions are more of a race against the clock to get results. When setting a goal, make sure to have accomplishments in mind that are milestones along the way, so you can look back and see how much you've changed. For example, if your final goal is to "read more books," then set smaller goals along the way like "read one chapter a day" or "read for one hour before bedtime" or "try a new library book each month." If your goal is to exercise four days a week, don't start at expecting to fit four days in right away. Bump up your weekly average by one night for a few weeks. When that feels comfortable, add another night. Before you know it, you'll be at four (or more) easily.

3. Give Yourself Grace.

While these steps may seem small and insignificant when they're taken, eventually they'll add up to your final goal. And when (not if) you slip up, it helps to look back at milestones and say "Hey, I didn't do perfect, but look where I am now in comparison to a few months ago." There's nothing wrong with wanting to see changes in your life, just be sure to take your mind off of getting to "there" (the magical land where all of your resolutions have been accomplished) and instead focus on "here" where you have the most control. Don't obsess over what future—you will be doing and instead make small choices now that will eventually add up to your long-term goals and result in a healthier, happier you.