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24 January 2020

Are New Year’s resolutions worth it? Three experts weigh in

Eat well. Work less. Go to the gym. Save half the house deposit. Studies show that 80 per cent of us ditch New Year’s resolutions like these when the calendar flicks over to February. So why are we conditioned to make annual lists of goals we’re doomed to forget? Just because it’s a new year, do you have to think about a new you? We asked three experts who advise people for a living to weigh in on whether New Year’s resolutions are worth the pressure, and whether January is even the best time to make them.


Alex Kingsmill: ‘Positive goals are always worthwhile, but it’s important to get the timing right’

Alex Kingsmill, a life and career coach at Upstairs Coaching in Melbourne, says that New Year’s resolutions fail when you set them around an external driver, like a certain date, rather than an internal one, like that feeling you get when you realise it’s time to grab a new opportunity with both hands. “Positive goals are always worthwhile, but it’s important to get the timing right,” she says. “It can be far more effective to find a time that suits your life best – say, after the kids have returned to school, or once you’ve started your new job or finished that big renovation.”

Resolutions are also doomed if you don’t back them up with a plan, Alex tells us. “You’re likely to lose focus, motivation will slide and before you know it, you’ll be back to square one.” Alex offers a four-point strategy as a remedy: “Break down your goals into sub-goals. Build in a system of rewards and reinforcements. Include a simple feedback mechanism to track your progress. And highlight opportunities to celebrate your achievements along the way!”


Sophie Scott: ‘Think of why you want to change, before you think about how’

“The start of the year is a great time to reflect on your goals and vision and what you would like to change,” says Sophie Scott, national medical reporter at the ABC and author of Roadtesting Happiness. “As many [of us] are on holidays, we have time to start new habits, such as going to the gym, and eating more healthfully. Lots of other people are focused on resolutions, so it can be easier to get support.”

The hard part is knowing how to keep your resolutions once their novelty wears off. To Sophie, this comes down to two things: habits and values. “One of the reasons why it’s hard to stick to new habits is that we still have old ones, which we have to override,” she tells us. Building new habits takes effort, but it’s worth it: “A habit is a process where a ‘cue’ automatically triggers an impulse in you to act. Think of something like leaving your gym gear at the front door so you can grab it on your way out. The more specific you can be about the cue that will trigger the behaviour you’re after, the more likely it’ll turn into a habit. And the power of habits is that they kick in and drive our behaviour even when we have lost motivation.”

The second key to seeing resolutions through is remembering what’s really important to you, Sophie suggests. “Think of ‘why’ you want to change, before you think about ‘how’. Find goals that closely align with your values.” And while a new year’s dawn might tempt you to reinvent yourself completely, Sophie’s advice is to set realistic, doable goals instead: “Focus on one small thing at a time and be patient with yourself. Let your mind figure out a process that works.”


Karen McLeod: ‘You don’t have to do it all at once’

Karen McLeod is a financial adviser at Ethical Investment Advisers in Brisbane and sees a spike in client enquiries in January. “People feel that anything’s possible at the start of a new year. Whether or not it’s a good time [to make resolutions], it’s good to have a catalyst to rethink what you’re doing – and the catalyst is often fresh beginnings.”

The next step is getting specific about where you want those fresh beginnings to take you, she tells us. “A client might say something vague, like, ‘I wish to be comfortable in retirement.’ But what does that actually mean for you? How much do you spend, and where do you intend on retiring, and are you going to be doing overseas travel, and how will you be supporting your partner or any grandchildren? If you make your goal specific, you can track your progress. And that leads to more success.”

If you’re worried about letting your resolutions slip, Karen suggests reaching out to an expert – whether that’s a financial adviser, a personal trainer or a tutor who’ll finally teach you that new language. “The good thing about enlisting someone to help your journey is that they hold you to account,” she says. And if you make a habit of checking in with your expert, who’ll in turn check in on your resolutions, you’ll see dividends: “The people we see have the most success are the people who regularly sit down and make time for their personal finances.”

Finally, remember to prioritise. “You don’t have to do it all at once,” Karen says. “You’ve got resolutions, so let’s tailor them to what’s realistic for you at this stage of your life. Let’s not redo all your investments and all your superannuation at one time, for example. Let’s chunk it down so that it’s achievable.”


Three tips from ING to get you rolling in the New Year:

  • Set your savings goals and structure your accounts to stay motivated to achieve them.
  • Show debt who is boss by having a plan to manage it.
  • Get on top of to-dos like setting up a budget tracker or consolidating your Super.
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ING is not affiliated with the individuals and organisations mentioned above and does not endorse their product or service, nor accept any liability in relation to the statements made by them in this article.


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