Almost everyone starts the new year with a new year’s resolution. But they’re so negative! The words ‘resolve’ and ‘resolution’ have so many negative connotations — like there’s always something to be fixed. Why not set some new year’s goals instead? Goals are empowering and positive. They are all about what we will do, not what we won’t.

Learn about the background of new year’s resolutions and find out how you can have more success by setting goals.

The history of new year’s resolutions

If you think new year’s resolutions are a relatively recent invention, think again. It’s possible the origins go all the way back to the ancient Babylonians, who were the first to celebrate the concept of the New Year.

This civilisation may have observed the change of year in March and not January as we are familiar with, but they certainly knew how to celebrate. It was typical to ring in the year with festivities that lasted for twelve days. During this celebration, people made promises to pay debts or return borrowed items. The Babylonians believed that by honouring their pledges, their gods would smile on them during the following year.

As with so much of modern culture, the Romans also had a hand in forming our modern concept of new year’s resolutions. It was Julius Caesar who gave us our month of January. He named it after the God Janus, a two-faced deity who looked back into the past year and forward into the future.

At the start of January, Romans would make sacrifices to Janus and promise good behaviour for the coming year. You can’t help but wonder what they defined as ‘good’… and also how long these faith-based resolutions lasted for! As the Romans evolved towards the Christian faith, a tradition known as Watchnight was introduced. Around this time, pagan sacrifices were dispensed with and the collection of deities found themselves replaced.

As Christianity took over, the Romans used the new year to resolve to do good, while also ruminating over past misdeeds. Since ancient times, new year’s resolutions have become mostly a secular phenomenon. The tradition has spread around the world and promises are made to ourselves rather than to gods. For many us around the globe, the intention is the same, to somehow, someway, become a ‘better’ person.

Why new year’s resolutions tend to be negative

When New Year comes around, we tend to take a look at ourselves and think about what we don’t like and what we want to change. We make resolutions to finally stick to our financial budget, lose weight or go to the gym, and often these pledges turn out to be harder than we anticipated.

The trouble with this approach is we are starting off with a negative attitude. We’re telling ourselves we’re not good enough.

For most of us, there are areas where we can improve, but instead of thinking negatively, it makes better sense to focus on the positive.

Flip your new year’s resolution on its head and think about what you can achieve rather than what you need to change. This is the key difference in setting goals over resolutions. Other reasons why such new year’s resolutions fall by the wayside before the summer has drawn to a close include:

Setting resolutions which are too vague

Take for instance ‘being a better person’. It sounds all well and good, but what does it mean? If you fail to set clearer targets, you’re setting yourself back from the get-go.

Giving up too easily

We have all done it, hitting the gym with gusto from January first to January seventh, then jumping on the scales and finding no weight has budged. What’s the point? May as well give it in, there’s always next year. Once this attitude has struck, it’s over. There’s no way you’re going to achieve what you had hoped.

Not having a plan

It’s not easy to follow through with a new year’s resolution if you don’t have a clear strategy for how you intend to achieve it. Think of your resolution like a recipe and set some fundamental steps for a positive outcome. As well as restructuring your resolutions and adding clarity, it is also important to think about why you want to make a change. A lifestyle overhaul can be a big step, and if you don’t have the right motivation, it can be even harder.

Planning to lose weight?

Think about why you want to lose weight. It could be to set a good example for your kids. Do you just want it to be easier to get up those stairs? Perhaps there is a dress or pair of jeans which have become to tight over time and you don’t want them getting any less comfortable.

Having a clear idea of why you want to lose weight and improve your fitness can give you a more powerful incentive. If your goal is to make it to the top of the stairs without getting puffed, you don’t have to focus so much on negative things like weight and looks, just on what it takes to achieve this small change in your life.

Want to quit smoking?

The same can be said for quitting smoking. Add to your resolution your many motivations for kicking the habit. Do a health check with your doctor and set a goal to make it to the next health check smoke-free before seeing how much your breathing and wellbeing has improved.

Got a financial goal?

Just like the goals above, a financial goal should have an end purpose in mind. Do you want to build towards a home deposit or plan your trip of a lifetime? These make sticking to your resolutions worthwhile.

Common resolutions and why they’re better expressed as goals.

When it comes to new year’s resolutions, there’s a set we’re all familiar with. These tend to be big picture plans, with the idea in mind of becoming that perfect person.
Hands up if you have tried any of these in the past, starting from January 1st:

  • Lose weight
  • Get fit
  • Save money
  • Volunteer more
  • Quit smoking
  • Get organised

Again, you can see how vague these are.

Let’s look at setting goals instead of making new year’s resolutions.

Instead of the blanket ‘save money’, set a goal to ‘save x amount, per week’, with a plan to have amassed a specific amount by the end of the year. Writing it all down and creating a budget will help you to do the right thing into February and beyond. You also need to be proactive, setting up an account without a card attached to it so you don’t feel tempted to impulse buy.

Many of the above resolutions clearly start out as an indication of what you don’t like about yourself. When you start by saying, “I’m too fat”, “I’m not fit enough” or “I can’t save money”, you’re not doing yourself any favours. Rephrasing your resolution as a goal can make it far more positive and forward-looking.

“I will lose seven kilos”, “I will go to the gym twice a week”, “By the end of the year I will save $5000”. These are positive goals and cover what you can do, rather than where you feel you’ve failed.

Setting goals that are right for you. There is nothing wrong with planning positive changes at the start of the new year and it can lead to some amazingly positive outcomes.

Here are a few ways to set the right goals for yourself:
  • Make sure your goals are something you are passionate about. If you want to do more charity work, for example, think about a charity that is close to your heart. Maybe helping at a local animal shelter may be more up your alley than picking up rubbish. There’s no point in trying to achieve something that is genuinely against your nature. Spend some time contemplating and considering what is really important to you and why. Once you really understand what you want to achieve and why undertaking it the journey will be that much easier.
  • Make sure your goal is realistic. It’s not possible to go from couch potato to running ten kilometres by the end of the week. Set the goal for ten kilometres by the end of the year. If you get there earlier, that’s great, but a realistic time frame will make setbacks less disheartening.
  • Make your goals incremental. If you intend to run those ten kilometres, you’ll probably need to start a little more slowly. A brisk walk this week. Incremental running next week. Running for ten minutes the week after. Not only will this help you to keep your progress structured, but crossing off each step on the list will feel motivated to achieve more.

And don’t forget to reward yourself along the way. A Friday night chocolatey treat, a shopping trip or a mani-pedi will reinforce your resolve to keep going.

How to define/articulate your goals

A long-term goal is the result of many small achievements. You can’t do a single medical exam and call yourself a doctor, so why should you be able to drop 15 kilos in one go? It’s going to take many trips to the gym with a little improvement each time. Once you’ve taken the time to think about what’s really important to you, turn this into a simple goal. If overall fitness is what you’re after, for instance, you might set a goal to run on the treadmill for twenty minutes straight’. With this goal established you can break it down into short-term goals:

  • 1 hour at the gym
  • 5km circuit, mixing running and walking
  • The same circuit, with less walking and more running.

As you achieve one goal, move on to the next. You can almost forget about your final goal as you tackle each short-term goal.

Eventually, the changes you have made to reach your small goals will become habits. This is where you truly start to feel successful, whether you have resolved to spend less money, to eat more healthy food or to make exercise part of your regular routine.

How to stick to your new year’s resolutions

If there’s one thing that destroys most new year’s resolutions, it’s giving up too soon. Start with the steps above, and you’re on the right track, but there are a few more things to keep in mind. Firstly, don’t get disheartened by a setback. Just because you didn’t meet your weekly goal doesn’t mean you have to give it all up. We all have bad weeks but the trick is not to let them get on top of you.

If you don’t reach your goal one week, you can always get there the next week. Remember, this is a personal goal to make your life better. If you’re not running ten kilometres and can only do eight before you need a rest, you have still come a long way.

Bad weeks aside, it is also vital to avoid excuses. You can’t go for a run because it’s raining? That’s what gyms are for. Accidentally overspent? Make up for it by having a quiet week next week. You can also get a friend to join you on your new goal journey and stay on track together. It’s always easier to achieve goals when you’re accountable in some way.

Keeping progress in writing will also help. Small changes may not be inspiring but tracking your progress over time will show you how far you have come. Take a look around for some progress-mapping apps or draw a graph and stick it on the wall.

How to celebrate your success once you achieve your goals

There is no harm in celebrating an achievement allowing for one simple rule: don’t undo your hard work. A good week at the gym can be destroyed by a binge on the weekend. Sure, you might feel you’ve earned some cake, but not ALL the cake.

A celebration is not worth it, if it is followed by terrible guilt. Treat yourself but keep your goals in mind.

Ready to make 2019 your best ever?

Put aside those negative resolutions and set yourself realistic goals instead. Work incrementally and steadily towards your ultimate goal over a 12-month period and don’t get disheartened by setbacks.

If better health and fitness is on your wishlist for the next 12 months, you don’t have to tackle your goal alone. Visit the friendly, supportive team at Mingara One Fitness to talk about how to achieve results throughout all the year and beyond.