New Years Resolutions: The Psychology of Calendar Landmarks

With New Years upon us, it is inevitable that many of you will be making New Years Resolutions. It seems to be a human, or at least a cultural behavior to set up goals along with calendar landmarks. “I will start exercising on Monday,” “I will stop smoking tomorrow,” etc. We tend to have vague goals in our minds that we think about on a regular basis, but when to start working towards these goals can be more of a challenge. So it makes sense that people set up goals to associate with an annual landmark in the calendar.

Does success and failure come down to willpower? I don’t believe so. I think that the real question is “do you have a plan or not?” If you attack your goal without a plan, your chances for failure are much greater. On the other hand, if you have a good plan in place, your chances for success increase as well. You may know someone who quit smoking cold turkey. I do as well. However this is much rarer than setting up a solid plan on how to handle the triggers that come with stopping smoking. Think about it. Many New Years resolutions start with great vigor, but fizzle out by the end of the next week. Then by the following week, they are a distant memory. The most likely reason for this is because the plan was nothing more than an idea of what that person wanted to accomplish, without taking into consideration the other details needed to reach this goal.

So when to start working towards your goal? I suggest starting now. Another problem with New Years Resolutions is that it gives you an excuse to procrastinate reaching your goal. It’s no different than saying “I will start that tomorrow,” or “I will start next week.” What is wrong with starting your plan right now? Many times people become all-or-nothing about their goals as well. They think that because they fumbled a few times that day or week, they need to wait until a new day or week begins to start fresh. If you had one failure, remember all of the successes that you had where you could have fumbled, but didn’t. Then start again.

There is no problem with setting a New Years Resolution. The problem is in the poor planning that is usually involved in setting this. Remember, calendar landmarks are only the beginning if you look at them that way. And a mis-step in reaching your goal is only the end if you make it so.


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