The whole concept of feeling pressured to come up with a signifiant goal or project to take on when the calendar year changes has some major flaws—many of which we’ve covered at Lifehacker over the years (including earlier this month).
Unless you’re in the right frame of mind, setting new year’s resolutions are typically empty words: Things you tell other people (or yourself) because you feel obligated to do so. Or, perhaps you’ve made a new year’s resolution in earnest, but vowed to do something so big or difficult to accomplish, that you basically set yourself up to fail.
That’s why you’re better off making an “old year’s resolution” if you’d like to do some self-improvement in the new year. Here’s why.
How to set (and stick to) an old year’s resolution
Basically, an old year’s resolution is a way to acknowledge and accept that failure is a natural part of the self-improvement process—as opposed to taking an all-or-nothing approach that officially begins on or after January 1.
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According to Christina Downey, a professor of psychology at Indiana University, and Mark Canada, the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Indiana University Kokomo—who cowrote an article on old year’s resolutions for The Conversation in 2021—here’s what to do:
First, identify some type of positive change you’d like to make in your life, but nothing so drastic that it becomes too daunting to start.
Then, get to work on it right away: Don’t wait for January 1.
Yes, 2023 is only a few days away, but Downey and Canada say that the point of an old year’s resolution is to give yourself time to practice enacting this change.
“Track your progress,” they write. “You might stumble now and then, but here’s the thing: You’re just practicing.”
Downey and Canada recommend thinking of an old year’s resolution like a rehearsal for a play, or a scrimmage in sports: Sure, you want to do well, but the whole point of it is to get some low-stakes experience preparing for the real thing, where failures are expected and accepted.
Then, treat January 1 like any other day of your practice period. In fact, when it comes to your old year’s resolution, feel free to ignore the calendar completely. The idea is to ease your way into making a lifestyle change, and giving yourself grace if/when you fail—regardless of the date.