New Year’s Resolutions: The Good, the Bad, and the Annoying

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Resolutions made as a new year arrives tend to come in two main categories, with a goal to do something that’s good for you, or to kick some bad habit. There’s also a third category of resolutions—one that resolution-makers should probably keep to themselves.

When it comes down to it, there’s nothing all that complicated about resolutions: After that bad devil appears on your shoulder talking you into doing all sorts of bad stuff on New Year’s Eve, the good angel shows up on your other shoulder tisk-tisking your ashamed, hung-over self and guilts you into a little self-transformation, with a break from the past and a fresh start. The timing of year is irrelevant, of course—goals can be set and habits can be changed at any time. But any time of year is a good time of year for a self-improvement resolution, which is nothing more than setting a goal to do stuff you know you should be doing, or to stop doing stuff you know you shouldn’t be doing.

Here’s a roundup of thoughts and possible goals for the new year:

A survey cited by CNNMoney says that 84% of employees plan on searching for new jobs—in other words, leaving a bad job—in 2011, up from 60% a year ago.

WalletPop’s five money resolutions are pretty standard personal finance recommendations, including building an emergency fund and sticking to a budget by differentiating between wants and needs—and putting strict limits on how much discretionary income can be used for wants.

A Not Made of Money post lists resolutions in the form of 8 financial mistakes to avoid—fairly standard stuff such as buying a brand-new car, not planning for retirement, and going into credit card debt—but the first resolution listed pretty much sums it up: living above your means. Everyone’s goal should be not simply to live within your means, but below your means—so that you can help others out, or that you have savings to fall back on when necessary.

The Star Tribune’s Kara McGuire cites a survey in which 4 in 10 resolutions involve either diet and exercise or better money management. McGuire lists her own goals involving money, including shopping around for new home and auto insurance—inertia in these departments often results in “bill creep”—and eating out less.

Trent at The Simple Dollar highly recommends that resolutions be, um, simple—a single goal that’s doable, rather than tons of unrealistic resolutions that’ll feel overwhelming. He also gives tips for structuring your habits and monitoring progress (set goals to meet by the beginning of each month, or each quarter of the year), and offers some great perspective on what a resolution really is (and isn’t):

A New Year’s resolution is simply a long term goal – one you hope to achieve within the coming year. They’re not really any different than any other challenging goal that we set for ourselves aside from the convenience of the calendar year as a tool for keeping track of our progress.

J.D. at Get Rich Slowly also only sets one simple goal per year, and not just any old goal:

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the notion that good goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed. This is true. But don’t forget that the best goals are personal — they mean something to you. There’s no use setting a goal to get out of debt if you don’t know why you want to get out of debt. Make your goals meaningful and smart.

Speaking of simple resolutions that anyone can achieve with a little discipline, here’s a good one from Techland: send smarter emails.

The money resolutions listed by Farnoosh Torabi at You’re So Money are especially good because they’re specific—meaning it’s easy to tell if you’re sticking to the plan or breaking it. Automating bill payment is one. Shopping strictly with cash is another. Resolutions can also be catered to the individual by establishing a rule of thumb:

We have diet rules of thumb – “no sweets during the week” or “no midnight snacking” – and they help us stay on track. Some good money rules could be: “I won’t buy anything over $100 without consulting with my spouse or partner” or “No more open tabs at the bar!”

CNN’s Christine Romans also suggest a few simple yet specific, easily achievable and quantifiable resolutions, such as maxing out your 401(k) at work, and drinking water rather than soda.

Taking a step back for a moment, the Dumb Little Man blog focuses on the importance of looking back before planning goals for the future. By asking yourself questions such as “How satisfied are you with 2010?” and “What are the biggest lessons you learned this year?” you’ll be able to set new goals that are appropriate for you—and that’ll hopefully lead to an even more satisfying year to come.

I suppose we shouldn’t expect much from celebrities, but any goal set by somebody who is rich and famous can seem annoying. USA Today rounds up resolutions from celebs such as Justin Timberlake, who hopes to sleep more and take some time off next, and Miley Cyrus, who resolves to go on some big trips in 2011. How bold. How annoying.

Finally, self-help guru Deepak Chopra weighs in on resolutions: He’s not a fan. Speaking to the LA Times, he opines:

I think no one ever keeps them, so a while ago I started saying, my New Year’s resolution is no resolution. Because everybody joins the gym and they stop going after three weeks; everybody goes on a diet, but they never keep the diets. So I don’t think much of New Year’s resolutions.

As others have stated, a resolution is nothing more than a goal, and goals can be set regardless of what time of year it is. Chopra says that goals can be achieved if the individual is truly motivated and inspired—and if the changing of the calendar was your only inspiration, you’re more than likely bound to come up short. Instead of one-time resolutions, he recommends regular reflection and soul-searching in which you pause in quiet for a few minutes daily and ask yourself questions such as:

What do I want? What is my life’s purpose? Is there a contribution I can make to my community or to society? What kind of relationships do I want to have? What is my idea of well being, and how can I achieve it?

I don’t ask that you even know the answers, but if you start to do this kind of reflection, it has a very interesting way of not only moving you to the answers but of changing your behavior. So instead of saying, I’m going to have all this willpower, and I’m going to try so hard, which is all mental fatigue, reflective self-inquiry spontaneously leads to change.

Whoah. Maybe I’ll just try to drink more water.

Who Are You Kidding? New Year’s Money Resolutions You Just Won’t Keep