The Difference Between New Year’s Resolutions and Goals

Hot Takes Incoming.

January is full of New Year’s Resolution loves and haters. Some of the haters (not actual haters but people who dislike the NYR) argue for a set goals not resolutions framework. This is BS.

The NY goal camp tend to prefer goals over resolutions “because most resolutions fall off.” This is true. According to Time Magazine, approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail before February and only about 8% of people stick with them all year.

Why do they fail?

There are two main reasons for this high fail rate. The first is that there are a disproportionate amount of people setting goals or resolutions in January than any other time of the year. In other words, there’s just more people setting goals or making promises to themselves in January than there are in April, July, or October.

The second reason is that most of the people who set resolutions set them without a plan. Setting a resolution to pay down your debt in 2024 or have more positive self-talk are fabulous and achievable goals. However, neither of these resolutions will be achieved simply by writing them down or thinking about them. You need a plan.

Goals vs. Resolutions

I hate to break it to you but resolutions and goals are the same thing. They’re just different names for the same conceptthere’s something in your life you want to achieve in 2024. Here’s the thing, goals also fail, and they fail for the exact same reasons as resolutions. If you don’t have a plan of action, protocols for checking-in, habits, or a way to measure success your goal will also fall off. How you name your achievement-setting mechanism is irrelevant if you don’t have a plan, unless a particular name is inspiring to you.

What Should I Call it Then?

If you’re setting goals for 2024 call it by the name that feels the best or most motivating for you. Sure, I can say “it’s just semantics” but sometimes naming something can help propel or motivate us. I personally call mine projects instead of resolutions or goals for one very important reason.

When I think of a project I think of something that’s multi-step. Something that will take a while, or at least won’t be accomplished right away. A project is something you typically work towards for days if not weeks or months. Plus, project planning is a field of its own and a bit of an art. Projects usually need to be planned out in order to achieve clarity and success.

Applying this line of thinking to my goals has helped me to conceive of my goals as multi-step right from the beginning. There will be moving parts, there will be several steps or tasks I’ll need to complete in order to achieve the end goal. It prepares me mentally from the beginning to work on this thing for weeks if not months.

In the past I used to get frustrated because I wasn’t seeing “results” or, I wasn’t taking the time to plan out my projects. Calling something a project creates the expectation that I will need to plan out my goal or create an “action plan.” It sets the expectation this will take time and some hard work to achieve. Part of goal or resolution achievement is managing expectations.

Application

I apply this framework for all kinds of goals from lofty business goals to small and simple personal ones. One of mine for 2024 is to run 200km this year (or just over 124 miles). I am already a runner and ran 100km outdoor this past spring and summer. The steps for this aren’t all that complicated but by conceiving of this as a project I took some time to create a plan of action and a way to measure success.

The plan:

  • run 5km 3 out of the 4 weeks this month and each month for Q1 = 45km/28mi
  • to ensure I reach a 5km run every run I’ll need an average minimum pace of 4.5 miles on my treadmill
  • start outdoor running in Q2 (April or May) and at this point I’ll set monthly challenges like run 2x 3km this week, run a 10km, bpm run etc.
  • Q2 and Q3 should average a minimum of 50km/30mi each, ideally 60km/37mi
  • Q4 should average 45km/28/mi

I don’t need to develop a running routine because I already run about once a week regularly. So, there are no new habits I need to create. I need to just run every week to achieve my goal. As far as “projects” go this is pretty simple (in terms of steps to achieve success not the degree of difficulty). The trouble with something like running is consistency. And, specific to my goal will be to pick up my numbers during the outdoor running season. Every season I enjoy running a variety of lengths. The past two years I’ve run 5km, 6km, 7km, and 10km runs. I only run longer runs outdoors so there’s a bit of an expectation that the numbers will pick up. If not, I’ll have to revise either the amount I run or adjust the total km goal down. Weekly or monthly challenges will help to keep things fresh and momentum up throughout the year, especially in the summer.

Compare this to a goal of writing a book.

Writing a book, no matter how experienced the author, is a project. Your plan will probably include steps for character development, plotting, writing, revising, formatting, marketing, and so much more. Or, even something like reducing negative self-talk.  This might not be something you’d traditionally consider to be a project. But, it’s one of those goals that many people have that are very easy to let go.

It can be super tempting to write it down on a goals list, think more positively about yourself for a few days, and then something happens at work, school, or home and things slip and you don’t get back on the horse so to speak.

You want to reduce the amount of negative self-talk or reframe how you think about yourself you need a plan. Call it what you want but you need a plan.

  • Step 1 might be to research how to change this
  • Step 2 might be to collect book recommendations and resources
  • Step 3 might be to read the most promising book on the list
  • Step 4 might be to try an exercise from the book like thought re-framing or an Emotions, Thoughts, Feelings (ETF) worksheet
  • Step 5 might be to re-evaluate

Conclusion

Call your New Year’s resolutions whatever you want or whatever is most motivating to you. My last unpopular take: set them anyways even if you know you won’t do any more than create a list.

If creating a NYR list every year is a fun activity that makes you feel good DO IT. Don’t let the productivity experts stop you or shame you. Don’t let other people spoil your fun, especially something that harms no one. Not even yourself. If setting this list makes you feel like sh*t that’s another story. Have, fun, set goals, and start 2024 on the bright side.

Thanks so much for reading! If you’d like to read even more content on setting yourself up for success in 2024, check out this post on creating your word of the year. Or, read about how to reflect on 2023 here.

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