Why You Broke Your New Year’s Resolution

Question: What are some bad first steps to take in pursuing happiness?

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Gretchen Rubin: Well, there’s a couple of mistakes that I think people make with resolutions.  First of all, it’s easy to make a resolution that sounds specific, but is not really specific because the thing with resolutions, the more specific you are with yourself; the better able you are to hold yourself accountable.  And that accountability is really the key to the resolutions.  So, something like, “I’m going to eat healthy.”  Now, that sounds specific, but what are you really asking of yourself?  You should say things like, “I’m going to pack my lunch and take it to work every day.”  “I’m going to eat salad three times a week.”  You should be very specific with yourself so that you know whether you are keeping your resolution. 

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A lot of people tell me that they have the resolution to get more fun out of life.  If you get more fun out of life you’re going to be happier, but what does that really mean.  How do you – what do you do different in your day, in your routine that’s going to make you feel – get more fun out of life?  So, you want to say to yourself, “I love old movies, therefore to get more fun out of life; I will rent and watch one classic movie every weekend.”  And then if you do that, you’ll know whether you’re keeping your resolution.  And if you keep it up for a couple of months, you’re going to feel like – wow, I’m getting more fun out of life.  So, it’s good to be very specific. 

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And I’ve also noticed something about resolutions.  There seems to be this distinction among people.  Some people really want to make ‘Yes’ resolutions.  And some people seem fine with making ‘No’ resolutions.  I’m a person who’s fine saying ‘No.’ I like saying to myself, “no gossiping,” “no nagging.”  And that’s easy for me and for some reason, it doesn’t – I don’t feel I have to rebel against that.  But I’ve noticed that a lot of people do much better when all their resolutions are framed as ‘Yes.’  Not something like, “I’m going to give up French Fries,” but something like “I’m going to eat three vegetables every day.”  “I’m going to hug more, kiss more, touch more.”  “I’m going to listen to more music.”  They do better when they frame things in the positive. And I think this is just part of human nature.  Some people do better that way and some people don’t mind saying ‘No.’ I kind of like the limitation, or feel like I’m accepting these limits.  Part of it, again, all these things about a happiness project really, you have to think about your own nature and what works for you and when you do better. 

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So this is something that I think can help people stick to their resolutions better.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

The "Happiness Project" author describes two frequent mistakes people make in setting goals for themselves.

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