Remember that burst of motivation you felt on January 1? When you sat down and thought carefully about what you wanted to accomplish and how you could improve yourself in the next 365 days?
Tell me this: Did you still have that same rush of excitement and sense of determination by January 20? Or did it quickly fade as you settled back into your same old habits?
If you fall into that latter camp, you're not alone. If gym crowds are any indication, most people are pretty quick to abandon their resolutions. But don’t worry—I’m not going to be another person spouting advice about how you can actually make those goals stick. Instead, I’m more interested in the mentality that inspires them in the first place.
Just think—in an ideal world, we’d all be constantly operating with this desire to grow and better ourselves. We’d take frequent steps back to reflect on what was working well and what wasn’t, so we could immediately ditch ineffective habits and routines and continue to grow.
Why then, does that emphasis on development seem to only roll around once per year? Why do so many of us look to January as the singular time when we should be critically evaluating and challenging ourselves?
I connected with Melissa Gratias, PhD, a workplace productivity coach and speaker, to answer those questions—as well as to find out how you can hang on to that goal-driven mentality all year long.
What’s So Special About the Beginning of the Year Anyway?
Here’s the short answer: absolutely nothing.
“There’s nothing magical about this change of the calendar,” explains Gratias. “It’s a human construction.” Yet we all tend to look to January as our sole chance to lay out these objectives for ourselves.
There’s nothing magical about this change of the calendar. It’s a human construction.
Of course, much of this is owed to the fact that the changing year serves as a punctuation mark. It indicates the end of one thing and the beginning of another, and that perceived clean slate gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect and start fresh.
Beyond the calendar, societal expectations are also at play here. When everybody around us is reflecting and setting intentions, we feel like we should do the same thing. Not only do we want to avoid the guilt associated with not jumping on the bandwagon, but we also want to set ourselves up for the glory if we actually prevail.
Consider this adult peer pressure of sorts. Reacting to it is quite literally hardwired into our brains. One study from the University of Southern California discovered that our brain places more value on winning in a social setting than it does on winning when you’re alone.
However, Gratias explains that there’s another reason we look at serious goal setting as only an annual activity. To put it simply, it hurts. “We’re stretching ourselves. We’re admitting that there’s a gap between where we are and where want to be, and that’s uncomfortable,” she says. “Goal setting is saying, ‘I’m not good enough right now,’ and who likes to say that about themselves?”
Four Tips to Maintain Your Resolution Mentality All Year Long
As painful as setting goals might be, they’re an essential piece of your personal and professional growth—all year long. “I think far too many people pressure themselves to set magnificent goals in January, when we really should be looking at our effectiveness all throughout the year,” Gratias adds.
But how can you be less attached to the month of January and channel this desire for improvement in your daily life? Here are four tips to help you stay focused on your own growth and betterment—whether it’s January or June.
1. Flip the Script on What Constitutes a “Fresh Start”
Nobody says that the new year is the only clean slate you can get. Why can’t the start of a new day be considered a fresh start? Or a new week? Or a new client? Or an entirely new job?
New beginnings are constantly happening. Sure, they might not be ceremoniously celebrated with a ball drop or seem quite as monumental as that countdown on December 31. But nonetheless, they’re still chances for you to reflect and improve.
Treat them as such. When you start a brand new workday, for example, take a quick pause to evaluate your wins from the previous day—and what you want to be better at this time around.
Whether it’s something simple like wasting less time on social media or something bigger like speaking with more confidence in your team meetings, taking those small opportunities to identify ways you can be even just a little bit better will fuel your desire to continue improving.
2. Schedule Periodic Check-Ins With Yourself
For many of us, the new year inspires a hefty dose of self-reflection. We dedicate time and mental energy to figuring out what we want to do next. Again, that’s something you can (and should!) be doing on a much more regular basis.
I get it—this time for quiet thought and reflection easily falls off the radar when you’re putting out fires and dealing with the hustle and bustle of your daily work life. That’s why you should quite literally schedule regular check-ins with yourself, much like you’d schedule a one-on-one with your boss.
Maybe you want to dedicate five minutes a week, a half hour a month, or even a full day each quarter to goal-setting and planning. Find the cadence that works for you, and then literally put those check-ins on your calendar.
When you have that quiet time to think and reflect, ask yourself questions like:
- What’s something that went well for me over the past [time period]?
- What’s something I was really disappointed in over the past [time period]?
- What’s one area I’d like to improve ahead of my next personal check-in?
These scheduled appointments when you can ponder questions like these will help you regularly identify the areas where you want to improve—rather than falling into the trap of losing track of your own development when things get busy.
3. Find an Accountability Partner
“There’s no ability like accountability,” says Gratias. For that reason, she recommends finding an accountability partner, who is “someone you have to report your progress to.”
Typically, people think of this buddy system only when they’re struggling to stick to goals. However, finding an accountability partner can do much more than just keep you on track with your existing objectives—it can provide encouragement to create new ones.
Think of it this way: If you enlisted the help of someone who was willing to check in with you regularly about your own development plans, would you really want to say, “Ugh, I don’t think I really want to work on myself this time around…”? Probably not.
Why? Well, admitting that we’re too apathetic to pursue our own advancement not only makes us look lazy, but it also inspires a heaping serving of shame—which, I’m sad to say, is an extremely powerful motivator. In fact, the authors of one 2014 report concluded that shame “was uniquely associated with the motivation to change the self."
In short, find yourself an accountability partner who not only monitors progress on your existing goals, but challenges you to set new ones from time to time. You’ll likely be surprised by the fire it lights under you.
4. Actively Pursue Feedback
Aside from the flushed cheeks and racing pulse that accompany shame and embarrassment, do you know what else is highly motivating? Feedback.
In one study of participants who were asked to play a brain training game, scientists found that feedback—whether it was positive or negative—inspired the participants to keep attempting more games.
Yes, you’re ultimately the one in charge of your own growth and development. But, there’s also no harm in asking for some input from others. In fact, it can serve you well.
Make sure that you’re asking thoughtful questions about how you could improve when you meet one-on-one with your manager. But don’t be afraid to also solicit feedback from a co-worker. Even your peers can be a great source of insight if you’re willing to ask for their input—whether it’s on your presentation, a recent project you completed, or even your demeanor in team meetings.
After all, nothing quite ignites your desire to keep pushing than having someone else point out your own wins or shortcomings. Explicitly ask for this feedback, and you’re sure to feel more focused on your growth and improvement on a regular basis.
I don’t want to take all of the magic and mystery out of the climactic countdown to midnight. But honestly, when it comes to your goals, there’s really nothing special about the turn of the calendar.
Ideally, that focus on self-improvement is something that you should possess all year long. As challenging as it might seem to continuously get a little vulnerable and identify areas where you’re coming up short, it’s a core part of your personal advancement and eventual success.
Put these four strategies to work, and I’m willing to bet your growth-centered mentality will outlast everybody else’s resolutions—by a long shot.
TopicsAchieving Goals , Resolutions , Goals , Syndication , Getting Ahead , Career Goals , Career Advice
Photo of person working at computer courtesy of Maskot/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author