It's tradition that stretches back probably to the year 1. Every year people make New Year's Resolutions, and by February, if not sooner, they're long forgotten.
But it doesn't have to be that way. I may not be an expert at keeping all of my resolutions -- if I were, I'd be a millionaire sipping a pina colada on a beach somewhere -- but I consider myself something of an expert at remembering them, and so I thought I'd offer a few tips for those who are thinking of making resolutions but wondering if it's worth the trouble.
1) Don't call them New Year's Resolutions. The resolutions part is fine. The "New Year" isn't. Instead, I always write up a "goal" list. If you think of the habits you want to achieve as attached to January 1, even if you're looking ahead to January 1, 2010, by the time you get into February and March, anything you've mentally attached "New Year" to won't feel new at all, and if you had planned to contribute more to your IRA, spend less at the grocery store or lose weight or whatever, chances are, you'll have forgotten all about your bold ideas. But if you call your list something like, "Goals: 2009," you might have a better shot at keeping your resolutions at the forefront of your mind.
2) Find a goal buddy. The most important thing I've done, to remembering my resolutions and even achieving some of them, over the last five or six years has been teaming up with a goal-minded friend of mine, who I've known since college. Every year, we make our list of goals for the next 12 months -- and every month, we email each other and report how we're doing or not doing. We try to trade emails on the first of the month, but sometimes, especially if we haven't been very productive, it might be April 17 when we're reporting on how thing went in March. Still, we're always offering each other our monthly reports, and that's kept us accountable.
I'm torn on what to suggest when it comes to how many goals anyone should have on a yearly list. Some years, I've had as many as 42 goals written down, with the thinking that I'll probably achieve more during the year, but too many goals, and you can lose focus on what you're really trying to improve. For instance, the year of my 42 goals, I had "keeping my car better maintained" as one of my missions. That's great, but that year, I didn't really have a goal list, as much as a to-do list. On the other hand, I did keep my car from running into the ground.
But if you only have two or three goals for an entire year, and you fail at all of them, you're going to be demoralized come December 31. So if you're new to the New Year's Eve resolution scene, I'd recommend thinking up about 10 goals, making some of them fairly easy and within reach and two or three of them, pretty challenging. Put them to paper, of course, and check them periodically; at least once a month, preferably holding yourself accountable to a friend or trusted family member. And if you do that and wind up a millionaire on a beach in a few years, I'd appreciate getting a post card.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist who is currently putting the finishing touches on his goal list for 2009. He is also the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
Making New Year's resolutions is easy: Keeping them is hard