Set Your Goals NOW, Not January 1st

Why do we still set New Year’s resolutions when we know they don’t really work?


We do it because it feels good. The end of one year and the beginning of another is a time of reflection on the past and hopefulness for the future. It’s common to want to make goals and fantasize about plans for the future. But for years now, we’ve been hearing that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Studies show most of us can only keep our resolutions going for a few weeks into the new year!


The reason for that is that on January 1st you have rose colored glasses. You’ve spent several weeks filled with the bliss of the holiday season. Now you’re looking ahead to the new year and all the possibilities it offers. Don’t’ get me wrong – I love the hopefulness, motivation, and clean-slate feeling that comes with a new year. But that “anything is possible” feeling, while it helps you in some ways, can hinder you in others.


Who’s better at setting goals? Optimists or pessimists?


When you set your goals for the year on January 1st, you may not be very realistic. The happiness and hopefulness of the holidays and new year could “trick” you into goals that don’t serve you. Research shows that pessimists, those who believe negative outcomes are likely, may be more accurate in their predictions of the world. That sounds like a good case for being pessimistic. But follow-up research revealed that even though pessimists were more realistic, optimists were still more successful in life, despite their inaccurate guesses about how well circumstances were going to turn out. This suggests that we’d all be better off if we had a nice balance of optimism and pessimism in our lives when we plan ahead and think about the future.


To maximize this optimism-pessimism balance, don’t do your annual goal setting or planning on January 1st. Instead, do your planning for the year now. We’re halfway through the year. You have a pretty good idea of how things are going and what direction they’re heading. You have a realistic opinion of how much time you have on a weekly basis to achieve your big goals. You have an accurate assessment of how much money you have in the bank and how much you need to accomplish your plans.


We’re now officially halfway through the year. The rose-colored glasses you were wearing on January 1st are off, and you can take a realistic assessment of your year so far. In fact, a little bit of pessimism can make you more motivated and successful, because you want to avoid the worst-case scenario. I’m all for optimism, but it has to be based in reality. For the best, most realistic shot at setting and achieving goals, do it now, not six months from now.