Try monthly resolutions instead.

Sorry, but let’s rip that band-aid off right away: 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February… and even fewer of those resolutions will last the whole year. I’ve never met a single person that’s kept a New Year’s resolution all throughout the year.

So why do we keep setting ourselves up for failure?

We already know the key to successful goal-setting is in making small, measurable goals. To that end, making a goal that lasts the whole year just isn’t feasible.

Plus, the turning of a year is a time for reflection on the year (or decade!) that came before this. Do you honestly recognize the person you were one year ago?

Maybe this is because I’m still in my 20s and establishing a sense of self, but I’m not the same person I was a year ago whatsoever. I think my goal for this year may have been to lose weight; I’ve said screw it and am embracing body positivity instead. I don’t have the same friends I had one year ago, or the same career plans. Some lifetime goals are the same, but I have different interests and passions. I am a different–and largely, better–person than I was at the end of 2018.

However, there’s someone I recognize a little better than 2018-Val: November-Val.

Monthly resolutions

If new years resolutions fail within six weeks, maybe we should be looking at that date to inform our goal-setting. Can you make a goal work for one month?

That’s what I’ve been doing throughout 2019–and I credit it as one of the main reasons my mental health has improved enough that I no longer take medication for it. In April, I established a better sleep schedule; in May, I established a better morning routine; in June, I added more joy to my life and started to see my worth in more than just my ability to work; etc.
That’s not to say I kept every resolution I set–but by talking about these with a group of people on Twitter that helped me with encouragement and accountability, I was able to drastically improve my life. You know, the thing a New Year’s resolution is supposed to do.

Building habits and routines

It also helps that you can build a habit within one month. (It’s actually anywhere from 18-245 days, so YMMV.) Your inner clock gets used to sleeping and waking at the same time each day; practice this for long enough, and it will become harder for you to deviate from that norm, even if you really want to finish just one more level of that game you’re playing.
And habits can stack on top of each other to form healthier routines. When I started to wake up at my alarm each day, I was so happy with myself for meeting that first goal that it made the second–establishing a morning routine–far easier. 

If you’re looking for tips to build effective habits, I recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (read my NSFW review of that book here). This article also gives great advice on focusing on one goal at a time, and on focusing on the trade-offs when taking any goal into account–for instance, you will sacrifice some 2 AM game sessions if you establish the right sleep schedule; sorry about your luck.

Choosing habits for physical and mental health

There’s a reason why I started with sleep as the first of my habits; waking up is the first thing you do every day. For me, it made sense to go in a logical order of establishing routines that fit with what I was trying to accomplish each day.
Here are some great habits you may want to start forming, which are all great for your mental health:

  1. Establish a sleep schedule.
  2. Create a morning and evening routine.
  3. Drink more water. Studies vary on how much water you should be drinking per day, but eight glasses is a good start.
  4. Eat healthy breakfasts; eat healthy lunches; eat healthy dinners. Yes, these three categories should be separately defined. There is too much decision fatigue involved in the blanket goal of “eat healthy.”
  5. Move your body more. Yes, this can mean “exercise,” but it can also mean taking nature walks and soaking up some sunshine. 
  6. Journal. An effective journal can be a way to practice gratitude and to help you better manage your time. It can also be an excellent source for brain dumping–getting all of your overwhelming thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper. I find it a very effective coping mechanism when I’m overwhelmed.
  7. Develop a crisis plan.
  8. Replace your unhealthy coping mechanisms (like alcohol or drugs) with healthy coping mechanisms (like meditation, creative endeavors, or exercise).
  9. Commit to building your self-esteem. This can be through therapy or even a workbook. (My recommendation: David Burns’ Ten Days to Self-Esteem.)
  10. Focus on connection. Seek out social connections in your professional and personal life, or focus on spending time and deepening connections with the people that are in your life already.
  11. Learn a new skill or hobby, or take a class. Reading, crafting, cooking, or exercise will all help you manage your mental health and build self-esteem, but they can also help you find like-minded individuals in your community to befriend!
  12. Develop and practice existing hobbies.
  13. Identify problem areas in your life–such as a trend of school or work stress, perfectionism, procrastination, or a traumatic event that you have not been able to process–and commit to working on those. (That’s not to say you can cure yourself of these issues in one month, but you can start.)

Setting yourself up for success

The best thing about setting monthly resolutions? You can’t fail at a monthly resolution.

  • If you even made a goal, that means you recognized something about yourself that you needed to change.
  • If you worked toward it at all–even if you only wrote one word out of your planned 50,000 (looking at you, National Novel Writing Month), you made progress, and that is not a failure.
  • If you need more than thirty days to work on your habit, there’s no shame whatsoever in giving yourself an extension.
  • If you decided a goal wasn’t for you because your priorities changed, there’s no shame in that, either. It happens to me all the time!

Conclusion

Above all, ask yourself this question going into 2020: 

Am I generally happy with where my life is now, and where it’s going? 

If not, now is a great time to make a change–but not with a lofty year-long goal to set yourself up for failure.

The only new year’s resolution you need is to not become complacent. If you commit to working on yourself, there is no reason to wait for the new year–or even for the new month.