New Year’s resolutions are a wonderful thing. According to Katharine Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, New Year’s resolutions set us up for the “fresh start effect”. These upticks in our motivation occur throughout the year, particularly at the start of a new month, and on Mondays, as the new week signals a chance to shed our less than best behavior and tendencies, allowing us to get on the right track. Research shows that there is no better day in the entire year than January 1 to feel the “fresh start effect’’ and since this important date is just a little over a week away, now is the time to lay the groundwork to make the most of the ultimate motivation reset.
Even if you don’t necessarily believe in making New Year’s resolutions, it is more than likely that you still have some goals that you would like to achieve in 2017. Now is the time to identify what those goals are, and start putting together an action plan, so that once the New Year starts, you can hit the ground running. Use some quiet time at the office this week, downtime in the middle of a flight if you’re traveling for the holidays, or even 20–30 minutes in the morning before the hustle and bustle of the day starts to jot down goals, ideas, plans, anything that you would like to accomplish or do more of in the coming year. I happen to find it is easier to think of 2–3 goals in specific areas of my life, such as my work and career, personal improvement and well being and family and other relationships. It might seem trivial to write this down, but research shows that those who take the time to write down their goals accomplish significantly more than those who do not. I write my goals for the year in a post-it that I affix to my journal. This allows me to look back throughout the year, and have a tangible reminder of what I would like to accomplish when life gets more hectic, as it always tends to do. You could also write yourself an email or electronic document, even just a little note that you keep inside your nightstand. Whatever works for you so that you are likely to see it again, and make adjustments as necessary, is the way to go.
Once you have identified your goals for the New Year, see how many of them require some kind of ground work, or logistical planning that you can begin to do now. One of my goals last year for the New Year was to exercise three times a week in the mornings. In order to achieve this goal in the beginning, I bought a gym bag, and filled it with the necessary items for working out/showering. I also figured out at what time I needed to wake up to go to the gym and complete my new routine while still leaving enough time to get to work without feeling frazzled. Another one of my goals was to build my website and begin blogging on a regular basis. I had absolutely no idea how to begin what seemed like an insurmountable task, but eventually I broke everything down into smaller, more manageable components (brainstorm website names, buy a domain, learn how to use WordPress), all of which I wrote down prior to the start of the New Year, so that I did not have to squander away my limited free time figuring out what first step I needed to take to achieve one of my goals.
Finally, once you have identified your goals for the New Year, written them down, and have worked through the logistics of how to begin to make tangible progress, it is time to start actually doing the work. It will not always be easy, which is probably why only 25 percent of us keep New Year’s resolutions past the first week but if you keep in mind that if you continue to put in the time and effort, you will eventually build the kind of habits that are going to improve your life. One strategy if January 7 rolls around and you feel like all the planning was for naught? Reward yourself for the work you have already put in, knowing that the start of every week offers a new, clean slate. Making lasting changes is difficult, and whether we keep all of our New Year’s resolutions or not, believing that we can make ourselves into something better, is possibly the best kind of “fresh-start” mindset we can ever hope for.