The Magic of January for Goal Setting and Resolutions

There are a lot of memes and blogs out there saying January is an arbitrary time for goal setting, that there’s nothing magical about it. That’s sort of true … but also, it’s not. Goals certainly don’t have to be set in January in order to stick. But it is easier to get the ball rolling on a goal when you start at the beginning of the year.

Most of the time, the true work of reaching goals is psychological. We battle against deeply ingrained habits. We struggle to create momentum where we’ve been standing still or stuck. We fight against the current, and that can be mentally exhausting. Starting in January means you can take advantage of a few mental tricks that make achieving goals a little bit easier.

Our course, it’s not always possible to reset when the calendar does. I love the years when I can start fresh as soon as the clock strikes midnight, but even when I can’t (like this year, when I have two trips planned within the next month), there are ways to fake the new-year fresh start, no matter what month is on the calendar.

January resolutions take advantage of the “fresh start”

In January, you just FEEL like you have a fresh start, a line in the sand, a new chapter (pick whatever metaphor suits you best). January is a natural turning of a calendar. The new year is a rebirth that shows both on our calendars and in the natural world, because if you battle through new goals in the winter, you’ll start to see results with the spring.

How to fake it:

There are lots of ways to feel like you have a fresh start — January is just an easy one. Start your “year” at the beginning of February and call January a time of reflection. Or start your year on your birthday instead of January 1. I really love the method outlined in the book The 12 Week Year; it’s set up to help you mimic that new year feeling.

When you start a resolution in January, you’re not alone

As hard as that is for me (an introvert) to swallow, we’re more likely to hit our goals if we know other people are doing it, too. In January, so many people are setting new goals that we don’t even have to join a class or a gym to feel like we’re not alone — we already know that a lot of people are in it together.

How to fake it:

Join a group! I generally think joining an in-person group is better for really tough goals, not only because spending time with people is in person allows for interpersonal interaction, but also because I find that the physical act of driving to the meeting helps me stay committed. But it’s pretty easy to find online groups, too, or even to join an online challenge to help reach a goal.

Starting in January makes measuring easier

Using some kind of measurement is important for goal setting. Without a solid measurement, you’re likely to lose focus and even move the goal posts farther out. It’s also a lot harder to see what’s working and what isn’t if you’re not measuring.

For most goals, starting your measurements in January makes things easy because taxes and record keeping generally reset in January anyway. And when you start any goal at the beginning of the year, it’s very easy to mentally keep track of how long you’ve been working toward it because our minds are already geared for a reset on January 1.

How to fake it:

You can start keeping records any time, of course. Try making a paper chain and tearing off a link every day to show your progress. Keep a checklist, or mark of days on a calendar. Start at the beginning of a month, the beginning of a quarter or the beginning of a new season.

If you’ve set a resolution this January and want a pep talk designed for exactly where you are with your goals, I’ve got you covered! This month on the Localist, I’m releasing one new episode every week just to meet you where you are with your goals. (And if you start another time, these episodes will help with goal setting any time.) Here’s the lineup:

  • Goals that really work
  • How to actually set SMART goals
  • Feeling like you’ve already failed is normal
  • Deal with disruptions and learn to focus
  • Celebration is critical

I’m also giving away my guide to the best books I’ve found for setting and achieving goals. It’s free when you sign up for my mailing list, which you can do below. Good luck on your goals, whether you read this in January or not!

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