Why do New Year’s resolutions not work? And what would be a good alternative? Read this blog post and write down your list of goals for the year.

This morning I went to the gym for my daily work-out. I’ve been going to this gym for 3 years now and it’s usually not busy in the mornings. Except from the first weeks of the new year, when there are a lot of new faces. But almost all of them disappear as suddenly as they come. In this third week of the year, things seem to be back to normal again with just the regulars.

For a few days a year, everyone is talking about this weird phenomenon called New Year’s resolutions. Then, after those days, you don’t hear about them anymore. It is expected by society that we come up with an idea to improve ourselves when we go into a new year. But most people don’t actually take time to think about what they want to achieve and why they want to achieve it. The outcome is a bunch of generic and loose resolutions, like getting healthier or saving money.

More than half of the New Year’s resolutions are related to health. People want to exercise more, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol, and maybe also stop smoking at the same time. But when they feel that they have failed once on one of them, they give up on all of them. Research shows that 80% of the New Year’s resolutions fail within six weeks and the majority already gives up in week one.

Last Monday was the third Monday of the year, which is referred to as Blue Monday. The media have bombarded this day as the most depressing day of the year because [a] it’s and Monday and [b] most people have already failed on their New Year’s resolutions and realize that their lives are the same as they were at the end of last year, before they set their resolutions. On this day, we tend to accept our defeat and tell ourselves: “Too bad, maybe it will work next year.” And then the same thing happens next year. This is pretty much how Einstein defined insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”

When your resolution is to live a healthier life and you eat something unhealthy, drink more than you planned to, or miss a work-out, it’s tempting to give up on the resolution altogether. That’s because most resolutions are too broad, difficult to measure, and not really thought through. We expect to change our lives instantly, everything at the same time, without any challenges. This is unrealistic, because it takes time to build new habits. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint.

People tend to overestimate how much they can do in a week, but underestimate what they can achieve in a year. That’s why writing down a list of your specific goals for the full year is much more effective than having New Year’s resolutions. Writing down your list of goals requires you to think deeply about what you want to achieve. Not what other people or society expects you to do, but what you want to do. This may sound simple, but how often do you take a step back from your day-to-day life to allow for this type of thinking? Take time to think where you are now and where you want to be in the future. What are you already doing to get there and what should you start or stop doing?

Having thought about your list of goals thoroughly increases your commitment to them, simply because they are in line with your values, needs, and long-term objectives. They give direction and thereby help you to focus on what is most important to achieve them. At the same time, by having your goals in the back of your head, you will be more open for arising opportunities; chances that you might miss otherwise.

Research has shown that the act of writing down a task, by itself already increases commitment. An experiment at the UK National Health Service (NHS) showed that patients who were asked to write down the date and time for their next appointment had an 18% lower chance to not show up for this appointment than those who also picked the date and time but had it written down for them.

Let’s see what goals for the year can look like. It’s important to understand that goals aren’t only focusing on health, career, and financials. You can – and should – also have more ‘fun’ goals, perhaps related to travelling, exploring, and trying new things. For 2018, I ended up with 17 goals, divided over the following categories: Career & Financial, Relationships, Fun & Explore, Side-Projects & Personal Growth, and Health & Fitness. Most goals are very specific to my current life, but I will share a few of my more generic 2018 goals as examples:

• Visit 3 new countries
• Get my PADI Scuba Diving Certificate
• Reach 1,000 downloads for my new book
• Publish at least 12 blog posts
• Work out on at least 80% of the days (minimum 30 minutes)
• Meditate every day

Other examples could be getting promoted at work, starting your own business, making three new good friends, reading x books on topic y. It can be anything as long as you know why you want to achieve the goal. It’s recommended to make your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound). We are not doing this to make our list of goals a scorecard for the year, but to make us think more deeply about what we want.

The examples above are just to give you an idea. The exercise of putting together your goals is only valuable if you take time to think what is important for you. If you are often thinking about your long-term goals, it will be easy to write down a list of goals for 2018. But if you haven’t spent much time thinking about this before, the exercise will be more difficult. Take all the time you need and don’t feel like you must finish the list in one go. It’s easier to make a start, put the list away for a day or two, and then continue working on it. Give yourself the time to think, think, and think a bit more.

When your list is ready, you got to decide if you want to share your goals with other people. Maybe someone can support you and give you a kick in the butt when you don’t do what you set out to do. Telling more people can further increase motivation and commitment if you don’t want to disappoint them, but be careful that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself. And only talk about your goals if you think it will be beneficial for reaching them, not to impress anyone. Remember that you’re doing this for yourself.

So now is a great time to throw out the shallow and superficial New Year’s resolutions, to make place for real 2018 goals. Think deeply about what you want to achieve, why you want it, and what goals can help you get there. Try to be specific when you set your goals and remember; your goals are not a scorecard for the year, but a tool to give you guidance, be more focused, and thereby achieve more. Without this focus, you will miss out on opportunities and the year will simply fly by without you taking action.

The year has only just begun. It’s up to you to make the most of it. Write down your goals for the year and make 2018 count.