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How to actually keep your New Year's resolutions

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

It's that time of year. The ball has dropped. The champagne bottles are empty, and you're ready to live your best life in 2023. If you need a little help with that - if you need advice on the best way to do almost anything, from getting along better with your in-laws to finally making a budget and sticking to it, NPR's Life Kit podcast has you covered. So we've reached out to Marielle Segarra, host of Life Kit, for some wisdom on succeeding at resolutions. Hey, Marielle. Welcome.

MARIELLE SEGARRA, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

NADWORNY: What is your take on New Year's resolutions?

SEGARRA: You know, it's funny. I've started leaning more towards intentions than resolutions or goals. You know, 'cause I feel like, when we talk about resolutions, a lot of the time it's this very specific, maybe rigid goal. Like, you know, let's say we're talking about the realm of art. A goal could be something like learn how to paint watercolors or get a comic published, and that could be super actionable and help you move forward. But I feel like it can also create - you could create a prison for yourself that way. And intention, on the other hand, can be as simple as one word, right? It could be, in this case, creativity. So that is something I talked about recently on Life Kit with our intern, Jamal Michel. He has an intention to be more creative.

JAMAL MICHEL, BYLINE: Yeah, for sure. And I think it's important to remember that we're all capable of artistic and creative expression. You know, we don't have to make the Mona Lisa to feel good about what we're engaging in. And, funny enough, it turns out just the act of making any kind of art is good for us.

SEGARRA: So - right? - it doesn't have to be this super rigid thing. And when you choose something that's an intention like that - just be more creative or make art - there are lots of different ways you can live and breathe that in the year ahead.

NADWORNY: Yeah. There's, like, a lot of room for changing or maybe failing a little bit and trying again, etc.

SEGARRA: Yeah, exactly.

NADWORNY: Do you have any resolutions, like, in years past that have kind of crashed and burned or have been successful?

SEGARRA: Yeah. I would say more so I want to - I don't remember the ones that have crashed and burned because usually those are gone by like, day two, right?

NADWORNY: Yes. They weren't important. Yeah.

SEGARRA: But once I started doing the intentions thing, that's worked really well for me. So I think I first started doing that a few years ago, and one of them was just be present in my physical body. And I thought it would maybe just be a January thing because January can be such a bleak time of year, and it's often hard to get exercise 'cause it's so cold - in New York at least. And so I was like, I just need to figure out ways to be moving and to be in my body. But I didn't say, OK, I want to run a 5K.

NADWORNY: Yeah.

SEGARRA: It was, you know, one day I might be doing yoga. Another day, maybe I just, like, would - I don't know - go take a - I would say take a bath, but I'm not a bath-taker. But you could take a bath. Maybe one day I'd go rock climbing. Or one day, it would be, I'm going to go for a walk. You know, it could be something somewhat simple or even just, like, put on lotion so my skin doesn't feel dry, right?

NADWORNY: Yeah.

SEGARRA: So that was supposed to be a January thing, and then it ended up being really a full-year thing. And now it's really just an intention, like, in general, of mine I always try to come back to.

NADWORNY: Why do you think we feel so compelled to make changes, especially around this time of year?

SEGARRA: You know, I think it's just symbolic, right?

NADWORNY: Yeah.

SEGARRA: Like, it gives people a set moment for a fresh start, especially if they want to fix something in their lives or something has been simmering for a while. It can give you an opportunity to have a difficult conversation, even. We talked on the show recently about splitting chores - whether that's between partners or housemates. And one of our experts, Eve Rodsky, suggested doing a household chores, audit - you know? - where you and the people you live with sit down and take stock of every chore and who does it so you can start to notice patterns and imbalances and make an effort to fix them.

And, I mean, that's another kind of thing that you can do for a New Year's resolution, right? Like, think about what has been hanging over you the past year or what you haven't quite been able to accomplish, like keeping a tidier house. And then sit down, and this could be the moment where you open that door and say, like, why haven't we kept a tidier house? Hmm, maybe it's my roommate.

(LAUGHTER)

NADWORNY: Yeah. And also, you're doing, like, a little outsourcing there, which I kind of like - like, bringing people on board...

SEGARRA: Oh, yeah.

NADWORNY: ...With the change you want to make.

SEGARRA: Yeah. That's much better than trying to keep it all tidy by yourself.

NADWORNY: OK, so let's be honest. Study after study has shown that the vast majority of us actually fail at resolutions. So are they just a shame trap? Like, how do we move on if we fail?

SEGARRA: Yeah. I mean, like I said, I have failed at some before - or what society might call failing, which is that I intended to do it, and then I didn't do it. But I will say that it's harder to fail at an intention than a really rigid goal. So if you're just like, I want to be present in my physical body, there are a lot of ways to do that, and you have a lot of opportunities. It's not like, I'm going to run this 5K on this date, and if I didn't do it, then I failed - you know? - 'cause that doesn't take into account also potential injuries or just, like, the ways that our bodies are always in flux and the way our lives are always in flux.

NADWORNY: I love your reframing of the idea of failure.

SEGARRA: Oh, yeah. I mean - right? You don't have to be objectively good at something to have succeeded. And you also don't even have to finish it. Like, you can do just a little bit at a time. This is what Jamal and I were talking about - about making art. I think if you find value in making some sort of resolution, then do it. And if you don't, again, there's nobody standing over your shoulder saying you have to.

NADWORNY: That was Marielle Segarra, host of Life Kit. They have a resolution planner to help guide you on the path to success in 2023 at their website, npr.org/lifekit. Thanks for chatting with us.

SEGARRA: Yeah. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marielle Segarra
Marielle Segarra is a reporter and the host of NPR's Life Kit, the award-winning podcast and radio show that shares trustworthy, nonjudgmental tips that help listeners navigate their lives.