How to craft a New Year’s resolution and why you should keep them to yourself

I think we’re poster children for why you shouldn’t publicize your New Year’s resolutions. Re-listening to our New Year’s resolution podcast of 2015 was just plain painful. Looking back, the results weren’t pretty.

A large body of research going back to the early 20th century explains why it’s a bad idea to let other people know about your goals. When we tell other people what we’re going to do in the coming year, that act of telling deludes us into thinking that we’ve already accomplished the goal. Blogging and social media, I think, makes this even worse in that it gives us all the ability to let hundreds or even thousands of people know what goals we’d like to accomplish in the coming year.

But there’s some subtlety to the research. As this Scientific American article points out, if you let all your Facebook friends know you intend to run a marathon, this can trick you into thinking you’ve accomplished the goal. If, however, you conceptualize a goal as a form of commitment rather than progress, you’re more likely to succeed. A study the article cites puts it this way,

This implies that a behavioral intention worded to indicate a strong commitment to the identity goal (e.g., ‘‘I want to write a paper to become a great scientist’’) should be less negatively affected by social reality than a behavioral intention that implies progress toward the identity goal (e.g., ‘‘I intend to write a paper, as is done by great scientists’’).

In other words, I think there’s a parallel to the way Alcoholics Anonymous frames sobriety as a commitment rather than something that’s achieved.

I’ve decided that publicizing goals on this blog or on the podcast is a bad idea because I don’t think I can adequately distinguish between progress and commitment unless I keep my goals to myself. It’s too easy to fall into bragging mode on a blog that’s dedicated to domesticity. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to make resolutions. I’m just going to keep them those commitments private.

SMART New Year’s Resolutions
And I’m going to be smarter about those goals. Another research-based Scientific American article suggests that our goals be “SMART”:

Time Framed

An example of a bad goal would be, “I’m going to lose some weight.” A “SMART” alternative would be, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by July 1.” The article also suggests that goals be inspiring and difficult but realistic. So, for instance, an uninspiring goal might be, “I’m going to walk more often.” A more inspiring and difficult goal might be, “I’m going to run a 5k.” An unrealistic goal (a lot of newbie runners fall into this one) would be trying to run a marathon without first having years for running experience.

With these studies in mind I’ve set a modest (under 10) number of specific, time framed goals that I have written down. I’m not telling anyone what they are and I’ve decided to review them every day.

Have you set some goals? How did your New Year’s resolutions go in 2014?

Leave a comment


  1. Yes, I have some new goals, but I guess I won’t tell anyone what they are….
    As for last year’s goals, 4 out of 5 were mostly achieved and and of the 4, one was only achieved by 75% so that is OK. Guess I can’t say what they are either as they will be related to this year’ goals. LOL

  2. 2014? You want me to think that far back? I did attain some of my goals for 2015. I did frame the thoughts as goals not resolutions. At the end of 2015 I did decide not to tell anyone of my plans for this year.

  3. I used to love the challenge of a new year’s resolution even though I knew most of them would fall by the wayside. In the past several years, life has dealt out quite enough challenges, many of which wouldn’t easily fit into the SMART framework; solo parenting, caring for a physically and mentally declining parent, stretching my paycheck, keeping the house, car, appliances, clothes etc. functioning just a little longer and constantly having more to do than gets done. It’s overwhelming. I realized that I desperately needed a sense of accomplishment–as much as I do, it was getting lost in the never ending supply of things that were on indefinite hold.

    Instead of resolving to do something I am recording the things I get done. I just made a little Notepad file on the computer desktop and add to it as I go. Nothing is too big or small to get a mention. Even a step in the right direction can make the list. It’s been a week and feel some hope!

  4. I have been trying on the idea of cycling through small goals rather than big long-reaching goals. I’ve read that we don’t have much attention span for difficult challenges beyond six to ten weeks. I would say that is true in my life. I have plenty of long-term projects I am committed to, but the idea of tackling them in manageable chunks has made them more feasible.

    October – November, I really worked on my diet, but kept my workouts pretty easy.
    December – now, I knew I’d be eating for the holiday season no matter what I told myself, so I didn’t worry about eating and took on a serious workout challenge.
    Next cycle – I am about to wrap up that challenge, ease back on the workouts and pay more attention to diet again.
    And so on.

    So far, this has gotten good results. Just about the time I’m ready to be done with something, I’m done with it.

    I’m also not doing a whole lot of talking about it, just slowly working the various programs.

  5. I made one New Year’s Resolution. Just one. And I haven’t told anyone what it is. Don’t plan to do so either until perhaps the end of this year. Keeping a secret can feel very empowering.

  6. I’m done with losing weight as a new year’s goal because it only makes me feel bad. This year I’m vowing to make an extra payment every month towards the principle on my mortgage, whether it’s $20 or $2k. I know this is a terribly unsexy goal, but then again, waiting until 2043 to pay that sucker off is even less sexy. Here’s to chipping away at debt! Happy New Year’s, y’all!

  7. I started formulating resolutions toward the end of December. And then I told a couple of people, soon remembering that I had set the same goal New Years of last year. So I became determined to accomplish the goal(a headstand without a wall for security). I did it! And just under the wire… before Jan.1. I slowly built up confidence over the year, and using the New Year as a deadline, finally demonstrated more self-reliance by moving away from the wall. Talking to people about my goal in this case,brought to conscious awareness my readiness to try ditching my crutch.

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