If you were anywhere near social media on January 1, you absolutely saw two things: First, photos of whatever your friends, family, and colleagues did at the stroke of midnight; and second, what those same people have resolved to change, reassess, do, see, or learn in the coming year. And not that there’s anything wrong with any of those status updates, but the push to have the entire impending year’s goals ironed out within the first day can feel like a real grind.
What if it’s already past the first of the month and you don’t have your New Year’s resolution set in stone? What if it’s past the first of the month and you’re not even quite sure what you want — and what you’ll be able — to achieve in the next 12 months?
According to statistics collected the University of Scranton, just 8% of New Year’s resolutions are successful — in large part, says “The Bulletproof Executive” author Dave Aspery, because “people don’t equip themselves with the mental ammunition to fight off doubt and continue with their goals.”
“A review in the American Journal of Heath Promotion found the more specific you make your goal, the more likely you are to succeed,” he explains. Which means, if you really want to make positive changes, it’s a good idea to really spend some time crafting milestones and desired achievements that are direct, specific, and mindful of your real-life challenges.
Those real-life challenges are, statistically and psychologically, exactly what make keeping New Year’s resolutions so hard.
“Setting resolutions at the beginning of the new year can help you to see the benefits of changing your behavior more clearly, and give you an extra boost of motivation,” writes Jess Whittlestone for Quartz, “But that boost is unlikely to last, because everyday life gets in the way.”
This is another reason why waiting a few days — or even a few weeks — before setting hard-and-fast goals is a good way to ensure success. Set targets that you think you might be able to achieve, then see if they’re able to be worked into your actual life. If they’re just looking possible, dial them down or make them a little easier to hit. Then, as you form habits, you can hold yourself to them, because you know that they work and that results will follow.
There are also strong arguments against year-long resolutions, generally. Writing for Fast Company, Laura Vanderkam interviewed business owners who tout 90-day goals, rather than 365-day resolutions.
“Life changes a lot in a year, especially if you work at a startup. Goals set annually may not feel relevant in 12 months. Or 12 months seems so far away that you figure you can always start tomorrow,” she writes. Ninety days, though, “is about ‘holding me accountable to my long range goals, but in smaller chunks,'” according to Mountain Waters Spa and Wellness owner Marni Beninger.
Instead of setting one or two giant goals for the entire year, consider making a calendar of goals you’d like to achieve each quarter, each season, or even each month. Make themes for your months, then see what you can achieve within those. That way, if you fall off the wagon, the entire year isn’t a total wash — and you’re more likely to get back on when you’ve got a new goal to aim towards. Which is useful, because people who anticipate failure (or, at least, count it among very real possibilities) are actually more likely to meet their goals.
“Accepting that you’ll likely slip up at some point doesn’t mean you’re a catastrophic failure. In fact, these small slip-ups can be useful in a number of ways,” writes Whittlestone. “Failures provide valuable feedback. When we fail, we learn more about what we need to achieve our goals, and the things that stand in our way. ”
Even if you do decide to go with one or two year-long goals, don’t feel the need to rush them just because it’s already past January 1 and you’ve got to have started on your goals right this minute. Instead, take the weekend (or the week, or even the month) to establish what’s possible for you, what’s best for your business or yourself, and then create concrete, achievable goals. You may not be the first to reach them among your friends, but you’ll definitely be the most likely to stay the course.