New Year — Resolutions or Rituals: Creating New Habits Effectively

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the kinds of resolutions we make for New Year’s are rarely original. They’re usually the same (or similar) goals that we all try to squeeze in and commit to without a plan.

The ones I commonly hear are:

  1. To lose weight
  2. To be a better parent / partner / friend / employee
  3. To earn more money or spend less. Maybe even start a business
  4. To eat healthier
  5. To workout more often
  6. To meditate and work on inner peace
  7. To make journaling a regular practice
  8. To learn a new skill or read more often
  9. To travel more often
  10. To eliminate a habit (smoking, alcohol, gossip, shopping, excessive TV)

Anything different on your list — we’d love to hear it.

Now that we are one entire week into the New Year (2% of 2020 done already?!), we wanted to check in on how you’re doing with your resolutions, and how many of you have given up.

If you haven’t broken yours yet, are you struggling?

I cannot count the number of years I have made resolutions in the past and broken them in just a few weeks. After a few years of repeating this cycle, there comes a time to ask — How many times have we made resolutions and actually succeeded in sticking to them?

In order to help you soothe some of the stress behind resolutions, we wanted to illustrate some important learnings we have acquired over the years while working towards our own development.

First, a little about the history behind all this because it is important to recognise where our ‘cultures’ and ‘traditions’ come from, so we can decide intentionally what to follow and whether it still applies to us in the same way.

Apparently, ancient Babylonians (4,000 years ago) were credited to be the first civilisation with New Year’s resolutions. It seems they affirmed their loyalties to their king during their annual religious festival and made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. (Source

This practice evolved from then through the Roman civilisation to the way we practice it in the 21st century.

In today’s era, it has somehow become the epitome of personal growth and development to create resolutions. It is definitely valuable to make resolutions, but the problem is that most of us do not create viable goals and often set ourselves up for failure right from the start.

Some of the reasons we end up being unsuccessful include:

  • Our resolutions are not personal: Maybe we want to lose weight, but is it really for us or because we think that’s what will make others appreciate us more?
  • We create multiple goals at the same time that are too complex or unattainable.
  • We are over-aggressive with ourselves at the beginning of the new year, very much like the way we used to prepare for exams in school. “Let’s cram it all in there on January 1st and hope for the best after that”.
  • Our resolution isn’t specific enough: Saying we want to be a better cook, or a better partner, or earn more money, or be healthier is not specific.

So instead of creating resolutions that start from an arbitrary date (like Jan 1st) consider altering your mindset to create ‘rituals’ throughout the year and build on them as you go along.

Here are some of the tactics you could use for ongoing personal development so that you create habits that stick over the long run:

  • Know the purpose of the goal: Make sure it is for yourself — Create a goal for you. Because you want it and you believe in it. Understand why you are doing it.
  • Create SMART Goals: Define your goals well, break them down into small steps and make your way up the ladder gradually by using the SMART framework: Specific — Measurable — Achievable — Realistic — Timely
  • Write the goal down: Journal what you want to achieve & what you have done so far to achieve it. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Even if it’s just a calendar cross off, it will empower you when you look at it.
  • Identify and connect with trigger habits: Understand what habits we need to un-learn so that we can introduce the new habit. For example, we brush our teeth after waking up. Its muscle memory and there’s no effort to it. But to introduce a new workout / jogging habit after you wake up, ensure you schedule it with a trigger. Same thing applies to negative triggers, for example when we have a bad day at work we grab some junk food or pull out a drink. That’s a negative trigger. Once you identify those, you can adjust the before and after actions.
  • Start small and one step at a time: It is great to have big goals, but understand that you need to take it slowly. You won’t start journaling 3 pages daily. Start with 5 minutes a day before bed, and grow it from there after 5–10–15 days cycles.
  • Set your own pace and stay consistent: if you skip one day of the new habit, don’t worry. Forgive yourself, forget about that day and try it again the next day.
  • Build a tribe: A buddy or partner(s) with the same (or similar) goals will do wonders for both of you. You team up to hold each other accountable and push for when you need an extra bump in energy on some days.

We hope this toolkit will be useful for you, for your ongoing resolutions but also for you to build better rituals over time. And remember, it’s not about complete transformation overnight — the secret is improving ourselves 1% everyday and that compounds in the long run.

Would love to hear your feedback in the comments section.

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Lokyatha is an education focused initiative to enable young adults to live better, more fruitful lives by delivering real world life skills.

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