Scroll your social feed or walk down the magazine aisle this time of year and you’ll see two big themes blaring back at you: “New Year, New You” and “Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” The annual anti-resolution backlash is a tradition as familiar as the midnight kiss, Auld Lang Syne, and resolutions themselves.
But there are good reasons for our conflicting attitudes about New Year’s resolutions.
On one hand, something about seeing the calendar reset to “1/1” just naturally seems to inspire us to imagine a fresh start. All of the healthier habits, the dusty dreams, the bucket list bullet points that we’ve been putting off for years suddenly feel possible.
We reached out to Vitality Elite Leader Danyele Wilson to get her take on how to approach a new year.
Danyele embraces the idea that January represents a good time to set goals. “Envisioning your best self is where your ‘why’ begins,” she says. The fresh start of a new year allows us to imagine a better version of ourselves, giving us something to work towards. It becomes the starting place for taking action and making meaningful life changes.
"What feels more familiar is settling."
The resolution cynics, however, also have a point. Wholesale, overnight change is exceedingly rare. In one study of the long-term success of New Year’s resolvers, “Seventy-seven percent maintained their pledges for 1 week but only 19% for 2 years.”(1) Resolutions, when you look at them in that light, simply don’t work.
As Danyele puts it, “Blank pages can create anxiety…. We don’t know [our future self] yet. They don’t exist. What feels more familiar is that feeling of settling.”
The feelings we are most familiar with have a profound effect on what we pursue. If we frequently give up and settle for less than what we deserve, that feeling becomes a kind of safe place that we revert back to when faced with a goal whose pursuit may prove difficult. In this way, the possibility of success can feel, counterintuitively, like too big a risk simply because we are unfamiliar with the feeling of achievement.
Familiarity with the feeling of success creates more success.
One Harvard Business Review study of creative workers discovered a phenomenon the researchers dubbed “the progress principle.”
“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”(2)
Put simply: By getting practice experiencing small wins, one develops a habit of expecting wins. Familiarity with the feeling of success creates more success.
That’s how progress happens.
This phenomenon can become a hack that we can use to set—and ultimately achieve—big goals.
As Danyele explains, “This year, instead of chasing perfection, chase small daily action.”
Don’t climb Everest; just put one foot in front of the other.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the best way you can prime yourself for achieving big things and making radical personal change is to pursue tiny, easily reachable goals every single day. Don’t climb Everest; just put one foot in front of the other.
Setting up and knocking down easy wins might seem simple enough, but it’s harder than you’d think. For most of us it takes an act of true courage even to pursue small goals. Deep down we know that what we ultimately want for ourselves is something big and bold, and taking ownership of our own growth is scary.
"Take steps before you're ready."
Which is why Danyele’s next piece of New Year’s advice is maybe the toughest: “Take steps before you’re ready.” There’s no warmup for taking steps towards a better you. Even if you want to be just 1% better today than you were yesterday, at some point you just have to start.
But once you get that first feeling of a small victory that you can celebrate, and then a second, and then a third…that’s when the magic starts to happen. “You know what it feels like to settle,” Danyele says. “Now it’s time to feel the pride of living out your true potential.”