As the year draws to a close, I plan to take some time to evaluate the progression of my life, including my finances, against my goals and resolutions for 2011. I reached some goals while missing others. There are many reasons people don’t keep new year’s resolutions, and I’m not any different.
In one recent survey, only 15 percent of those who made resolutions have kept them. Other studies have presented even more startling numbers, claiming a resolution success rate of only 8 percent. I even found one researcher claiming only 3 percent of resolutions survive the first month of the year. The statistics get even worse for people who follow self-help advice promising to improve resolution-keeping through visualization (for example, hanging a pair of jeans you’d like to fit on your door or keeping a photograph of a vacation spot you’d like to afford on your dresser) or through sheer willpower.
Furthermore, only about half of all Americans even bother to make new year’s resolutions. Given the negative media surrounding failure, with a word like “doomed” making prominent appearances, that makes sense. Why spend the time thinking about how to improve your life if chances are good you’ll fail?
Beating the odds and succeeding at keeping your new year’s resolutions comes down to setting the right goals from the beginning, focusing on fewer aspects of your life, and not using the new year as a one-night stand for resolutions. The failure rate doesn’t concern me, though; I’m more concerned with the half of the population that doesn’t take the time to look at how they can improve their lives and the world around them. It’s unacceptable to me that the fear of failure is preventing people from thinking about the future.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” according to a popular translation of Socrates. A tortured philosopher’s nearly-final words from the textbooks of history are relevant today. (According to Plato, Socrates’ last words were, “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?” Those words could inspire a different discussion about personal finances.) The end of one year and the start of another is a convenient time to self-reflect. Did you live your life according to your values and pursue the things that inspire you? Is the world a better place after 365 days?
These questions go beyond goals and resolutions, but they can inspire both as well as a renewed dedication to living your life a certain way in the new year and beyond. Set some goals and resolutions, not just the typical positive changes like paying off debt, losing weight, and quitting smoking, but others that are tied more to who you are. That might even include some goals that can’t be measured. That goes against typical goal-setting advice, but with new year’s resolutions, it doesn’t have to be a matter of reaching your goal or failing. Just the process of thinking — and if you’re so inclined, writing down — your thoughts about the ideal “you” can improve your life and the lives of those around you.
The root of making resolutions that stick is looking deep into your own life to determine who you are at your core, and if that person is approaching the person you’d like to be. No resolution can be successful, or for that success to matter, without being that meaningful. The end of one year and the start of the next is a good time to begin this process, but don’t set self-reflection aside for just the one day.
Published or updated December 23, 2011.