3 Reasons Why Your New Year's Resolutions Fail—and How to Fix Them

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You don’t need a special day to come up with goals, but New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to build better habits. The problem is, by the time February rolls around, our best laid plans have often gone awry. Don’t let it happen this year: Heed these three simple tips for fail-proof resolutions.

PROBLEM 1: THEY’RE TOO OVERWHELMING

Let’s say your goal is to pay off $5000 worth of credit card debt this year. Since you're giving yourself a long timeframe (all year) to pay it down, you end up procrastinating or splurging, telling yourself you’ll make up for it later. But the longer you push it off, the bigger and more overwhelming your once-reasonable goal can feel.

Solution: Set Smaller Milestones

The big picture is important, but connecting your goal to the present makes it more digestible and easier to stick with. Instead of vowing to pay off $5000 by the end of next December, make it your resolution to put $96 toward your credit card debt every week, for example.

In a study from the University of Wollongong, researchers asked subjects to save using one of two methods: a linear model and a cyclical model. In the linear model, the researchers told subjects that saving for the future was important and asked them to set aside money accordingly. In contrast, they told the cyclical group:

This approach acknowledges that one’s life consists of many small and large cycles, that is, events that repeat themselves. We want you to think of the personal savings task as one part of such a cyclical life. Make your savings task a routinized one: just focus on saving the amount that you want to save now, not next month, not next year. Think about whether you saved enough money during your last paycheck cycle. If you saved as much as you wanted, continue with your persistence. If you did not save enough, make it up this time, with the current paycheck cycle.

When subjects used this cyclical model, focusing on the present, they saved more than subjects who focused on their long-term goal.

PROBLEM 2: THEY'RE TOO VAGUE

“Find a better job” is a worthy goal, but it's a bit amorphous. It's unclear what "better" means to you, and it’s difficult to plot the right course of action when you’re not sure what your desired outcome is. Many resolutions are vague in this way: get in shape, worry less, spend more time with loved ones.

Solution: Make Your Goal a SMART One

To make your goal actionable, it should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. When you set specific parameters and guidelines for your goal, it makes it easier to come up with an action plan. Under a bit more scrutiny, "spend more time with loved ones" might become "invite my best friends over for dinner every other Sunday night." This new goal is specific, measurable, time-bound—it ticks all the boxes and tells you exactly what you want and how to get there.

PROBLEM 3: YOU FELL FOR THE “FALSE FIRST STEP”

“A false first step is when we try to buy a better version of ourselves instead of doing the actual work to accomplish it,” Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch tells Mental Floss. “The general idea is that purchasing something like a heart rate monitor can feel a lot like we're taking a step towards our fitness goals,” Ongaro says. “The purchase itself can give us a dopamine release and a feeling of satisfaction, but it hasn't actually accomplished anything other than spending some money on a new gadget.”

Even worse, sometimes that dopamine is enough to lure you away from your goal altogether, Ongaro says. “That feeling of satisfaction that comes with the purchase often is good enough that we don't feel the need to actually go out for a run and use it.”

Solution: Start With What You Already Have

You can avoid this trap by forcing yourself to start your goal with the resources you already have on hand. “Whether the goal is to learn a new language or improve physical fitness, the best way to get started and avoid the false first step is to do the best you can with what you already have,” Ongaro says. “Start really small, even learning one new word per day for 30 days straight, or just taking a quick walk around the block every day.”

This isn’t to say you should never buy anything related to your goal, though. As Ongaro points out, you just want to make sure you’ve already developed the habit a bit first. “Establish a habit and regular practice that will be enhanced by a product you may buy,” he says. “It's likely that you won't even need that gadget or that fancy language learning software once you actually get started ... Basically, don't let buying something be the first step you take towards meaningful change in your life.”

25 Gift Cards That Give You—and Your Recipient—the Best Bang for Your Buck

flyparade/iStock via Getty Images
flyparade/iStock via Getty Images

Though gift cards can definitely solve your annual conundrum over what to buy those hard-to-please people on your list, deciding on a gift card is the easy part—deciding which gift card to give them, however, is where the challenge comes in.

To help you narrow it down, WalletHub devised a multi-factor ranking system for gift cards of all types, from home improvement outlets like Lowe’s to subscription services like Netflix. Researchers analyzed popularity (based on search volume), average buyer’s discount across major gift card exchange sites, average resale value, retailer ratings on popular review sites, and shipping fees, and then assigned an overall score to each of America’s 100 largest retailers.

According to the study, your best option this year is a Target gift card, with an average buyer’s discount of 5.76 percent, a resale value of $77.12, and a retailer rating of 3.09 out of 5.

But before you stock up on Target gift cards for your many friends and family members, you might want to peruse the rest of WalletHub’s data. IKEA, for example, which tied for third place with Home Depot and eBay, boasts an average buyer’s discount of 10.85 percent.

The top performers from the food industry were Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Chipotle, which all tied for fourth place (among several other companies, Netflix and iTunes included) with 50 points apiece.

Even if you’ve already decided which gift cards you’re going with this holiday season, it’s still worth looking at WalletHub’s data before you buy them to make sure you’re getting a discount comparable to (or better than) the average. And, if there’s a particularly choosy recipient on your list who’ll likely try to resell their gift card, perhaps pick one with an especially high resale value, like Costco’s $84.60 or Walmart’s $84.09.

Check out the rankings below, including overall score, and find out the full details from WalletHub’s study here.

  1. Target // Score: 70
  1. Walmart // Score: 60
  1. Sephora // Score: 60
  1. eBay // Score: 55
  1. Home Depot // Score: 55
  1. IKEA // Score: 55
  1. iTunes // Score: 50
  1. Starbucks // Score: 50
  1. Costco // Score: 50
  1. Chick-fil-A // Score: 50
  1. Netflix // Score: 50
  1. McDonald’s // Score: 50
  1. Fandango // Score: 50
  1. Chipotle // Score: 50
  1. REI // Score: 50
  1. Old Navy // Score: 50
  1. H&M // Score: 50
  1. Disney // Score: 45
  1. Google Play // Score: 45
  1. Best Buy // Score: 45
  1. Macy's // Score: 45
  1. Lowe's // Score: 45
  1. Subway // Score: 45
  1. Amazon // Score: 40
  1. Gamestop // Score: 40

The 20 Most Expensive ZIP Codes in America

The San Mateo Bridge runs along San Francisco's Bay Area, home to many of America's most expensive ZIP codes.
The San Mateo Bridge runs along San Francisco's Bay Area, home to many of America's most expensive ZIP codes.
Andrei Stanescu/iStock via Getty Images

You don’t need to be a real estate agent to know that New York and California are two notoriously expensive places to live. However, those inconceivably high property values aren’t just contained to mansions in Beverly Hills or office buildings in Midtown Manhattan.

Each year, PropertyShark crunches the numbers on real estate prices across the country to discover which ZIP codes are truly the most expensive—and this year, multiple ZIP codes across California and New York once again reigned supreme. Instead of analyzing asking prices, PropertyShark looked at each area’s median sale prices, which more accurately reflect how much people are actually willing to pay for each property based on supply and demand.

At the top of the list for the third straight year is Atherton’s 94027 in California’s Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley venture capitalists, sports figures like Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, and more. The median sale price for real estate there is $7,050,000, and the luxury housing in the region definitely isn’t owned by the Currys’ neighbors alone—nearby ZIP codes that also cracked the top 20 include Palo Alto’s 94301 and 94306, Los Altos's 94022 and 94024, and several others.

top 10 most expensive zip codes
PropertyShark

South of the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange County ZIP codes make impressive appearances on the list, too. Los Angeles’s Santa Monica (90402) and Beverly Hills (90210, of course) took the third and fourth spots, respectively, with median sale prices just over $4 million, and Orange County’s Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar also made the top 20.

Overall, California took a staggering 16 of the top 20 spots, and New York was the second-place state with four spots. Surprisingly, the most expensive New York ZIP code isn’t in the heart of the Big Apple—it’s farther east, in a Long Island village called Sagaponack, which is, unsurprisingly, in the Hamptons.

The top 20 (which is actually the top 22, because of two ties) also includes a Boston ZIP code and one in Medina, Washington, which borders Lake Washington.

Scroll on to find out just how expensive each ZIP code is, and read more about PropertyShark’s study here.

  1. Atherton, California (94027) // $7,050,000
  2. Sagaponack, New York (11962) // $4,300,000
  3. Santa Monica, California (90402) // $4,154,000
  4. Beverly Hills, California (90210) // $4,080,000
  5. New York, New York (10007) // $3,900,000
  6. Boston, Massachusetts (02199) // $3,669,000
  7. Palo Alto, California (94301) // $3,522,000
  8. New York, New York (10013) // $3,515,000
  9. Los Altos, California (94022) // $3,450,000
  10. Ross, California (94957) // $3,350,000
  11. Portola Valley, California (94028) // $3,300,000
  12. Medina, Washington (98039) // $3,200,000
  13. Los Altos, California (94024) // $3,150,000
  14. Newport Beach, California (92661) // $3,140,000
  15. Newport Beach, California (92662) // $2,900,000
  16. Corona Del Mar, California (92625) and Stinson Beach, California (94970) // $2,800,000
  17. Palo Alto, California (94306) // $2,751,000
  18. New York, New York (10282) // $2,660,000
  19. Los Gatos, California (95030) and Burlingame, California (94010) // $2,630,000
  20. Santa Barbara , California (93108) // $2,620,000

[h/t PropertyShark]

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