It’s the same story every year: you tell yourself that next year will be your year, the year you start running, stop drinking coffee, plan better. And without fail, come January 31st these goals and aspirations are out the window – you’re back to drinking that double espresso hurriedly finishing off a business report for your meeting that’s already 5 minutes overdue.
New year’s resolutions are hard. But they’re even more difficult to keep when you’re running your own business. With more responsibility and less free time, what should be self-improvement only leads to more anxiety and stress.
In this post, we’ll be discussing why we feel the need to add this extra pressure every December, why we never keep our resolutions, and why that’s not actually a bad thing.
Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions? A History of Annual Self-Promises
A new year’s resolution is a promise we make to ourselves to do or not to do something to either accomplish a goal or break a bad habit. But just where did this tradition begin?
New Year’s was first celebrated over 4000 years ago in ancient Babylon. The Babylonians believed the start of the year was March, seeing in the arrival of spring.
The Ancient Romans shifted this to January in 153 B.C. to reflect the Roman God that month is named after: Janus. Janus was imaged as having two faces – one to look forward to the future and one looking back to the past at the same time. Janus was the guardian of arches and doors, and beginnings and endings.
The tradition of making new year’s resolutions began under Caesar’s reign, where all resolutions were of a moral nature, e.g. to be kind to others. The ancient Romans believed that Janus would see this and then bless them in the year ahead.
Why You Never Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
It’s fair to say, that in this day and age, we’re not making new year’s resolutions to appease an Ancient Roman God. But is that really the reason why we find it hard to stick to our goals?
…No, of course it isn’t! These are five more likely reasons why you never keep your new year’s resolutions.
- We Go Too Big
One of the biggest reasons we struggle to meet our goals is due to a go big or go home mentality that exists around new year’s resolutions. It’s never a small change, like remembering to use mouthwash when you brush your teeth; it’s big changes like changing your career path, cutting out an integral part of your current diet, completely changing the way you work. This isn’t realist, nor is it SMART.
Instead of reaching for the stars, why not try setting SMART goals? This process helps segment your goals into achievable bite-size pieces. So, you want to lose 30lbs – start by losing 2lbs, then 5lbs, etc. You want to get better at preparing for meetings – start preparing before you’ve even sent the email invitation.
- We Procrastinate
Procrastination is where you avoid completing urgent, or less pleasant, tasks in favour of less urgent and usually more preferable ones, like hoovering the entire house to avoid doing your actual work. This can have a massive impact on deadlines and can affect your time management – not a great habit to fall into if you’re a small business owner!
But if your resolution is to procrastinate less, that’s easier said than done – because you’re likely to procrastinate about procrastinating! The majority of people know when they’re distracting themselves from the task at hand. So, when you get the urge to diverge, try motivating yourself by cutting the task into smaller chunks.
For example, work until you’ve written a quarter of that report, then half, then three quarters. That makes your workload much more manageable and means you’re more likely to finish it on time.
- We Do It Alone
Goals take a lot of time, effort and commitment. And when it’s just yourself you need to think about, it’s easy to let good habits slip. We’re more productive (and more likely to stick at something) if we’re doing it with someone else! If you do quit, you’re not just letting yourself down; you’re also letting that other person down, which makes us more resilient to the tempting idea of quitting on our new year goals.
For example, you could create a thread on a small business forum encouraging other business owners to join you in some new year’s challenges to help you all stay on track. Talking about your goals and sharing them is a great way to keep on track.
We Do Too Much, Too Soon
You know how when you go to the gym in December and there’s no one there, but then come January it seems as though everyone and their grandparents have signed up? At the beginning of the year, it’s easy to dive straight into a new routine! But if you go too hard, too fast, it might not be sustainable in the long term. Introducing smaller, manageable habits gradually is a much more sustainable way of bettering yourself in the new year.
We Don't Really Want to Change
Motivation is the key factor for triggering a change in our lives. We’re motivated by our needs, wants and desires. So, if we’re not motivated to achieve something, it’s important to ask yourself: is it something you really want? And if so, do you want it enough to change your habits?
Change is easier said than done. And if you’re not willing to put in the hard work to make that change happen, you’re likely to fall off the wagon before the month is out.
What Should You Do Instead?
So, maybe new year’s resolutions aren’t the best way to set yourself up to achieve your goals and change your habits… But if you’re really serious about using the new year as an opportunity to kickstart a year of self-improvement, here are a few things you can try to help you along the way.
- Habit Loop
One of the most effective ways to achieve your resolution is by turning it into a habit. A habit loop describes how all habits, both good and bad, work. It’s made up of three elements: the cue, the routine and the reward, and it’s thought that by understanding how these three elements work, you can change bad habits and form good habits more easily.
A cue is what triggers the habit. It could be a time, a location, a person or an action. For example, a cue could be waking up, which triggers the routine of wanting a cup of tea. The cue could even be the cup of tea, which triggers the routine of wanting a biscuit with it!
The routine is the action you take after experiencing the cue. If you’re wanting to change a bad habit, this is the behaviour that you’ll be wanting to alter.
The reward is what reinforces the habit and makes you want to keep doing it. In the above examples the first reward would be the cup of tea, in the second example the reward is the biscuit.
If you were to change a bad habit, you’d short circuit the loop, and change your routine once you’ve experienced the cue. To develop a new habit, you would start at the cue. For example, having meatless Mondays every Monday night or writing a marketing email every Wednesday morning. Try experimenting with your rewards to find a healthy way to treat yourself.
- Small Changes
Don’t feel like you need to overhaul your entire lifestyle just because it’s January. That’s far too much pressure and the perfect recipe for guilt and disappointment. Pick one or two goals you want to work on throughout the year – this is far more sensible (and manageable). Write a list of all your potential resolutions for your business and pick the two that are likely to have the most positive impact.
- Create Goals All Year Round
Who says you need to leave it until the new year to create goals? You should be making goals multiple times a year, whenever it suits your business (or your life!) rather than when it suits the calendar. If you want to change something about yourself, don’t put it off – start it now. Then when everyone’s making their resolutions in the new year, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals already!
So, What’s the Main Takeaway?
Having goals helps us move forward. They motivate us to produce incredible work and do incredible things – we need them in our lives. But we don’t necessarily need to load our new year with incredible self-promises that do little other than stress you out and leave you feeling disappointed in yourself. So, why not skip the resolutions this and focus on your business in a far more holistic way? With smaller, achievable goals spread across the whole year!