Instead of making resolutions, reflect on lessons learned during the past year.
Making a New Year’s resolution can be a noble endeavor. But most of the time, resolutions don’t stick. Multiple studies show that 80% are abandoned from mid-February on into June.
Why such a poor track record? Many resolutions won’t come to fruition because they reflect unrealistic expectations. Most die on the vine for lack of an action plan, social support, and/or motivation. Aware of this bad reputation, in one study, 42% of the people resolved not to make them.
Still, many religions and cultures have New Year’s traditions of self-reflection and renewed commitment to values and goals. So it’s natural to feel inspired by the dawning New Year and make resolutions with the hope of self-improvement, better living, or a new beginning.
- Choose realistic goals that are meaningful to you
- Create an action plan you can follow
- Take baby steps
- Keep track of your successes
- Cultivate optimism
- Practice positive-self talk
- Be mindful and self-aware of how you sabotage yourself
But here’s the rub: We tend to be unskilled at most or all of these activities, which means that all of those “tips for success” qualify as New Year’s Resolutions in and of themselves. Good luck with that! No wonder the rate of failure and lack of participation is so high.
There’s got to be a better way to encourage one’s own personal growth and achievement.
A way that
- has a higher chance of success,
- makes you feel good about yourself,
- honors the path you’re actually on, and
- inspires you in the present moment, and going forward.
Reflect on the lessons you’ve learned and milestones you’ve reached during the past year.
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Have you ever made a to-do list, where you include tasks you’ve already completed over the past few hours or days? Being able to cross off those tasks gives you credit for what you’ve been busy accomplishing, lets you bask in your success, boosts your morale, and energizes you for the rest of the list.
Reviewing the past year does the same for you—it gives you credit for the accomplishments already achieved, improvements already made, and lessons already learned.
How do I get started?
Reflect on the notable experiences and events of the past year. You might make a month-to-month timeline, or you can do it by category, such as “Work,” “Health & Fitness,” “Relationships,” “Finances,” “Home.” Make a list of what you achieved, whether it was on your to-do list or not. Make a list of the challenges, struggles, and conflicts you endured. Then ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers:
- What went well? Why?
- What can I keep doing to ensure my success?
- What went wrong? Why?
- What did I learn from this? What did I do differently or better?
- What am I still learning? Where is there still room for growth?
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Reflect on your good and bad experiences, including the whens, the whys, the hows, and what role you played in the outcomes. Making a list of your struggles can be especially rewarding, because they may reveal where you’ve made the biggest strides.
Why does “reflecting on experiences” work?
Research abounds on how reflection boosts learning and positive change. Because it’s so effective, reflection is woven into schools, and is routinely practiced in many professions, including teaching, nursing, and business. We benefit in many ways, such as:
- gaining new insights about a subject, an issue, ourselves, and others;
- seeing connections between our behaviors and outcomes;
- being motivated to find solutions and seek better results;
- questioning assumptions and entertaining new perspectives;
- strengthening new skills and habits;
- recognizing our progress and growth;
- boosting morale;
- encouraging continued personal and professional growth.
As you take stock of this past year, you can reinforce the gains from your successes and solidify the lessons learned from your mistakes. You might also pinpoint improvements or projects still under construction, fueling ongoing growth.