TIB #34: Write New Years resolution history this year. Make it stick this time!

Written by Arno Jansen

There is one week left in December as I am writing this. You have a chance to write New Years resolution history this year. Make it stick this time!

Just a few more days until a brand new year. Just a few more days until a fresh new start. At least, that is how many people feel when a new year starts, myself included. A moment with heightened potential for change, hence New Years’ resolutions.

A positive perspective on failed resolutions

About 40% of American adults, make new years resolutions. At the end of the month of January, about 80% have let go of their resolutions and considered them failed. (Don’t quote me on the exact numbers though). I understand that only about 12% of all people making resolutions, manage to make lasting changes. 

At first glance, an 88% failure rate seems to be a pretty sad statistic. If you do the math though, it is still a pretty impressive result.

There are about 255 million adult US citizens. 40% of those make New Year’s resolutions, that is 101 million people. If 12% make a lasting change as a result, that is more than 12 million people improving their life on January 1st! I bet there is no other day in the year when 12 million people manage to change their lives for the better.

If you are one of those people: congratulations! This post is not for you though.

This is for the rest of us, who still want to infuse ourselves with the potential for change, but know ourselves well enough not to expect miracles on the first day of the new year.

Why I stopped making resolutions

I have made resolutions for decades. As a kid, I was determined to save my allowance for some big stereo system or a new saxophone something. As an adult, I joined the millions of people who were determined to live a healthier life.

It never worked, although I never looked at those resolutions as a complete waste of time. A whole month of running 3 times a week, does not do me harm in the end. But resolutions rarely led to lasting change.

Over the past few years, my desire and motivation to make big changes, waned. Not in a depressing kind of way, I just did not want the pressure and disappointment of the way I used to do things. 

That does not mean I am unable of changing. On the contrary; over the past 2 years, I have made many significant changes in my life. Just not from a big-bang approach on January 1st, my birthday, or any other day of the year.

So, why bother?

Making lasting change is tough, but that is no reason not to try it. According to Katy Milkman, most changes take many attempts to get right.

Recommended reading:
How To Change – Katy Milkman

How to Change is a powerful, groundbreaking blueprint to help you – and anyone you manage, teach or coach – to achieve personal and professional goals, from the master of human nature and behaviour change and Choiceology podcast host Professor Katy Milkman.

You may need several attempts to find the way a change sticks for you. In my experience, I need several attempts to figure out exactly what and why I want to change in the first place. Sure, “live a healthier life” is noble. But if there is no apparent urgency that causes the (desire to) change, our initial reason for changing may not be crystal clear.

So, we try. And we fail. We learn something about ourselves. And we try again. Maybe not today, but next year. Maybe we start doing things differently anyway without being fully aware of it. Who knows.

Just don’t expect to change your behavior as if you are hitting a switch. It takes time, effort, and probably several attempts. That is not torture, nor failure, but determination.

Recommended article from this site:
“Change is a process, not an event”

Why do you think this site is called “Trying Is Being“? Because the sooner you realise that because you are trying the thing, you are doing the thing. If you are trying to become someone, you are that someone?

I am not trying to be a good parent, partner, entrepreneur, creator, creative, etc. I already am all those things. And you are too!

Add to that some self-reflection and a desire to be the best person you can be for those around you, and you will continually be “trying” to be better.

Sometimes you will succeed and sometimes you will fail. I came across this quote a while back that sums it all up:

“You have to be in the game to hit a home run”.

How to write New Years resolution history this time?

So, how do you increase your chances to change? Here are three things I have learned over the years that work for me (and many other people) to help you write New Years resolution history. Amaze yourself and those around you this time around!

1. Make small, incremental changes.

I enjoy running, but I don’t do it nearly enough. I also know I love running in what others consider “bad weather”. For many years, January 1st would be a great time for me to tell myself I will start running again.

(I silently still do 🤫)

And of course, I plan to do it three times a week starting January 1st. If I feel particularly empowered, I will make a silent commitment to myself to run a half marathon later this year. 🤦‍♂️

Besides running a high risk of injuries, the reality of such a commitment becomes apparent two weeks into the new year. The holidays are over and normal life has resumed its pace.

After a full day of being the boss of just one very talented, but hard-to-focus employee 😉, followed by a family dinner table with small children, I find myself without either time or energy to go out for a run in the freezing rain. 

In other words: I get hyped up on motivation and dream up something big and ridiculous, commit and fail.

The change is too big a bang to stick.

Instead I decided to go walking or running when listening to a podcast. Or, only allow myself to watch “Elementary” when on the elliptical machine in my office. More movement, less commitment.

Make small changes by deliberately putting in conscious effort. If you manage to make those stick, taking the next small step and the next one after that, will lead to bigger lasting changes in the end.

Recommended article from this site:
“How effort-based goal-setting helps achieve lasting change”

2. Changing is easier than adding

Replacing one behaviour with another, is a lot easier than trying to keep adding new resolutions to an already full schedule. 

Take the example of “Dry January“, not sure how big this is in other countries, but in Holland, quite a few people have started to embrace this.

It means you commit to not drinking any alcohol during the first month of the new year to counter the increased alcohol consumption during the previous month. 

The reality of this change is that you are replacing a glass of wine in the evening, with a cup of tea for example. That is a lot easier to manage and stick to then adding something new to your already busy schedule.

I have done several “Dry Januaries” now and do it without too much effort. It often tends to extend well into February too. While I don’t drink much alcohol to begin with, it makes it quite easy to add other “dry moments” into the year. For example, after a vacation where we enjoyed the local cuisine paired with a local beverage made from fermented grapes.

I am not saying to never pick up anything new, but if you do: take a moment to think how you are going to fit that into your existing life?

You were able to fill up all 24 available hours in the day over the past years that you have been alive, so adding anything new to it means you may need to cut back on other things.

Take a moment to think that through and see if you are willing and able to find the time to do that. 

3. Don’t go it alone

Nothing happens in a vaccuüm. Doing a “Dry January” is so much easier because many more people are doing it. My wife and I (and often some friends as well) do it together. That makes it much easier to drink a cup of tea instead of an alcoholic beverage.

Having someone to hold you accountable is a good motivation to stick to your commitment. Even better is it when you have someone else that also makes a commitment of their own.

Stating my commitments out loud or in writing others has helped me a lot over the past year of running a business. Being part of an online mastermind group and having in-person entrepreneurs around me to make commitments with has proven to be very valuable. 

For example: I am convinced I could not have kept up my publishing schedule on this site if it had not been for the support from entrepreneur friends online and in-person because I shared my commitment with them. (Thank you guys and gals, you know who you are 😘)

Whats next?

Let’s put that “This year, we’re gonna do things differently”-feeling to good use this year. What do you want to do or change in your business or life and how are you going to do it? In short:

  1. Make small, incremental changes. 
  2. Make a change to an existing behavior instead of adding new stuff 
  3. Do it together: sharing your commitments with somebody else can boost your motivation especially if the other person also commits to a change of their own.

A lot has been said and written about behevior change in various context: weight loss, habit formation, whatever your approach, consider applying these three suggestions to your next plan. If you want to dive deeper and get more insights in how to make your changes stick, read Katy Milkman’s book “How To Change“.

Let me be your accountability partner!

Let me know what you would like to change! Send me an e-mail and share your commitment, and I’ll be your accountability partner for 2023.

I’ll send you a short e-mail once a month to check in with you so that you know someone will hold you accountable. I’ll share (anonymized) updates with all participants on how they are doing.


Full disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. This means I get a small kickback at no extra cost to you if you decide to buy the product using that link. It helps to support the site!

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