It's coming up to that time of year again, and millions of people across the world will be hastily writing lofty goals they want to achieve in

The top four new year's resolutions are (source):

  1. Increase exercise
  2. Be more conscientious about work or school
  3. Develop better eating habits
  4. Stop smoking, drinking, or using drugs (including caffeine)

These are all admirable goals, and the start of the year seems like the perfect time to start them. After all, it's a new year and a new beginning, so why do so many of us struggle?

Why do new year's resolutions fail?

There are plenty of reasons, but here are some of the main culprits:

  • Poorly defined – "Increase Exercise" isn't a particularly well defined goal. "Exercise for thirty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday" is much clearer, and much more likely to succeed.
  • Too much, too soon – If you currently drink, smoke and do no exercise, is it realistic to expect that overnight you'll become a lean, mean, non-smoking exercise machine? Not really, and that's one of the reasons these resolutions fail.

    We often set ourselves huge, magical targets, and expect that come January 1st we'll have limitless motivation and energy to complete anything we want. This isn't to say that big goals are bad, but they must be consistent with the current level of your abilities.

  • Expecting to fail – New Year's Resolutions are generally regarded as something of a joke. We don't really expect to keep them, and if we give up it's not treated. This is the wrong mindset for any kind of goal, as if you expect to fail you almost certainly will.
  • No planning – 79% of people don't create a plan for achieving their resolutions, and approximately 35% of people stop within the first two months. Failing to plan is planning to fail, as they say.

Tips for achieving your new year's resolutions

Now that we know some of the reasons why resolutions fail, we can look at ways to improve the situation.

Clearly define your goals

Put some time and thought into your goals. Ask yourself what you really want, and don't feel pressured into taking up the same resolutions as everyone else. Saying "I'll never drink again!" when you're hung over on the 1st of January isn't the most well thought out goal. Set aside some time to yourself, and be creative with what you want.

If this is your first time setting serious goals, you might want to read the article "Goal setting for beginners".

Set smaller goals

It's good to set large goals, but they're of no benefit if you know you'll give up on them early. Trying to give up all of your bad habits in one go is a recipe for disaster, which will likely lead to early failure.

Use 30 day trials

Instead of setting one huge goal, why not try out lots of different goals by using 30 day trials? This makes it easier to take up many different habits throughout the year, and you may find that some things that you wanted don't have the benefits you thought they would.

A short trial is a great way to learn more about your capabilities, and it also gives you lots of small successes that you can use to motivate yourself.

Daily reviews

Make reviewing your goals the first thing you do in the morning. Well, it can be the second thing if you need the bathroom!

Write them on an index card and carry it in your wallet or purse. When you have a few spare minutes during the day, take it out and read through your goals again. Constantly remind yourself of what you want to achieve, and you'll find it much easier to get there.

Create a plan

Planning isn't the most glamorous activity, but it is a valuable exercise. Break your goal down into small, actionable steps.

Trying to go straight to the top is extremely difficult, so take it one step at a time. You wouldn't try to lift the heaviest weight at the gym if you'd never lifted before. Start small, and gradually work your way towards success.

Other Tips

There are a few other tips you can use to increase the chances that you'll complete your resolutions.

Fill your environment with reminders

Create posters, charts, books of inspirational quotes and pictures, or anything else that you think will help you achieve your goals. Want a new car? Then stick a picture of it on your wall. Use the power of positive visualisation to help the goal stick in your mind.

A nice example of this is by Jack Canfield in the film "The Secret". He wanted to earn 100,000 dollars, so he created a $100,000 bill and stuck it to his ceiling. It was the first thing he'd see in the morning, and the last thing he'd see at night. Keep the goal in your mind.

Keep a journal or progress log

Keeping a record of your progress has many advantages, and allows you to spot areas you are struggling. It's also another way of reminding you of your goals, and it helps you to make sure that you take a small step towards success every day.

Use a focusing partner

Get a friend or relative to help with your goal. It's always good to have a friend along for the journey, and they can help pick you up when the going gets tough.

Nobody's perfect

You can't complete every goal, and you will fail at some. Remember that failure doesn't matter. Even if you only gain one piece of insight, or learn one new thing from your goal, you haven't wasted your time and energy.

As an example, let's look at my resolutions for 2006. To tell you the truth, I can't even remember them! Looking back, it appears that I wanted to blog more, start my business and finish the rest of my games website.

As you can probably guess, what actually happened was completely different, but not in a bad way. I started this personal development website, released some small source code libraries, wrote some in-depth articles and conducted several indie developer interviews. It's not entirely what I had in mind when I set my resolutions (if you can call them that), but it's been a great experience.

All the best for 2007!

If you're setting resolutions for the year 2007, then I wish you all the best in achieving all you can and more. Here's to a happy and prosperous new year!