Make Resolutions, Set Goals, or Build Positive Habits?
(This page may contain affiliate links and we may earn fees from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. See our Disclosure for more info.)
A new start. A fresh beginning. Time to turn the page. Whatever words you use to describe it, you're ready to focus on making positive changes in your life.
Do you make New Year's resolutions? Have you shifted to building good habits rather than making resolutions or setting goals?
If you are ready to make changes, what should you do?
You know many people give up on the resolutions they make within a few weeks – if not sooner!
But are habits specific enough to make the changes you want or does goal setting make the most sense?
Let's look further at each of these terms.
We'll review their meaning (according to the Cambridge Dictionary, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and whether the word itself matters when you really want to make changes in your life.
A resolution is promising yourself to do something.
Common resolutions include positive changes such as:
- eating healthier
- exercising more
- quitting smoking
- saving more money
- sleeping more
- spending more time with family and friends
- reducing stress
- learning something
The Pros of Resolutions
The best thing about resolutions is that they put the focus on you.
If you're someone who continually takes care of others, finding time to take care of yourself is tough!
By making a promise to yourself to make positive changes (or even one change), you are thinking about yourself and what is good for you.
If you remember the “oxygen mask” analogy, when you are making better choices with your money or your health – you'll be able to help others better too.
The Cons of Resolutions
Depending on how you state a resolution, there are a lot of cons. They may be too vague – exercising “more” or saving “more” money.
How much more? Is eating a piece of fruit each day eating healthy?
And losing those 10 pounds… is your plan to do that in the next few months or by the end of the year?
How will you know when to celebrate small wins on your resolutions if you aren't really sure what they mean or when you want to accomplish them by?
Also, if you break promises (resolutions) you've made to yourself, you might just give up and see yourself as a failure.
This can make you feel worse about yourself rather than celebrating any progress you did make on your resolution.
A goal is a purpose; something that you want to achieve.
You've probably had some experience setting goals – either personal or professional. You can have short-term goals or long-term goals.
Have you ever made SMART goals? Maybe you prefer BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals)?
Is your goal to improve your health by losing one pound a month for the next year?
Are you trying to save $100 a month to build an emergency fund by the end of the year?
Goals can be set in many different areas of your life!
Pros of Goals
Goals tie what you want to accomplish to a purpose. You don't just promise yourself you'll do something – you give context and importance to the “why” of doing it.
You're improving your health by losing weight – not just dropping pounds. You'll be more prepared for an emergency if you save that money.
Reviewing the reason you set the goal in the first place will help you if you start to lose focus or struggle to meet your goals.
If you use SMART goals, you'll carefully track your progress in achieving your goals.
They aren't just something you'll say to make yourself feel better on New Year's Day!
And if you really want to dream big, BHAG's might be what you need to start thinking “out-of-the-box” and make significant positive changes in your life.
Cons of Goals
You may get caught up in creating a list of big goals for the new year.
The more you want to accomplish, the worse it can feel if life gets in the way and slows down your progress.
People sometimes set goals that aren't realistic either.
The “A” in SMART goals is “achievable” and although some think goals should always be “stretching” yourself – it can be a recipe for failure too.
If you are someone who gets hyper-focused, you may meet your goals at the expense of other essential things in your life – like your relationships.
A habit is a way of acting; something you do regularly and often, sometimes without knowing you are doing it.
If you're trying to make a positive change – doing it regularly and often really makes sense!
Taking at least 10,000 steps a day, meditating for 10 minutes a day, volunteering once a week, or automating your savings are great examples of positive habits.
The Pros of Habits
You've chosen something very important to you. So important that you want to do it without really thinking about it.
If you succeed, habits can be very powerful – a commitment to putting extra money towards your debt each month, going to the gym before work during the week, skipping the evening glass of wine, and relaxing with a good book instead – whatever you choose to focus on.
Building positive habits also reduces the number of decisions you need to make each day – giving you more “brainpower” to focus on other things!
Cons of Habits
If you become complacent with your habits, are you going to continue to grow and challenge yourself?
You may need to make it a point to revisit the habits you have settled on over time to ensure they still meet your needs.
Being intentional – purposeful in your actions – is just as important as developing the positive habits you want to incorporate in your life.
Whatever You Choose, Your Mindset Matters Most
As you reflect on last year and think about changes you want to make for the new year, do it from a productive mindset.
Many resolutions come from negative experiences or situations.
Instead, take a strengths-based approach to move forward – even if it's “baby steps” or a “two steps forward and one step back” path.
You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish in a year.
- What did you do last year that worked?
- Did you start using a budget at the beginning of the year?
Bravo! This year, maybe you can sell some things to make extra cash.
Starting a side hustle or getting a part-time job for a few months can help remove a few lines of debt too.
Did you quit smoking for a month or give up eating out a few times a month before you went back to your old ways?
What did you do that first month? Can you build on that and try for greater success this year?
If you're having trouble starting, try asking yourself these questions:
- What do you want to change?
- Why do you want to change?
- What's in it for you? (What's in it for others?)
- How are you going to change?
- How will you know you are successful?
- What if you aren't successful? How will you revise your plan?
- Is the change you're seeking realistic?
- How many changes can you handle at one time?
Positive Change Takes Time
Instead of jumping right in and making all of the changes in the first week of your new focus, you may need time to figure out how to do it right for lasting transformation.
The important thing is to start.
If you need to lose weight, should you make a doctor's appointment before trying that new workout routine?
Maybe a visit to the YMCA is a better option than dropping money on a special shake to drink each day.
If you have money struggles, would a financial coach be a better choice than spending money starting an MLM business?
Investing time and money in yourself is worth it if you want to make lasting positive change.
Next: Three Tips for Staying Positive About Your Financial Future
Written by Women Who Money Cofounders Vicki Cook and Amy Blacklock.
Amy and Vicki are the coauthors of Estate Planning 101, From Avoiding Probate and Assessing Assets to Establishing Directives and Understanding Taxes, Your Essential Primer to Estate Planning, from Adams Media.