As the end of another year approaches, many of us are thinking about our hopes wishes for the year to come. For many, New Years has been associated with the tradition of making resolutions for the approaching year, focusing on aspects of ourselves and our lives which we wish to change and improve upon. Studies estimate that about 50% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. However, most of us are not very good at keeping them; in fact, studies suggest that only 10% of those who make resolutions make these behaviors lasting changes in their lives. Below, I offer a few guidelines to improve your odds of making these changes stick.
1. Keep it simple: Instead of making 3-4 resolutions which you may or may not keep by the end of the year, spend some time thinking about the 1or 2 changes your life would benefit most from and focus your energy, motivation, and concentration on this one thing, thereby increasing your chances of accomplishing it.
2. Be Specific: All too often I hear my clients speak of broad-stroke changes they’d like in their lives “Be healthier,” “be happier,” “have a more fulfilling marriage” etc., and the first question I ask them is “what exactly would this _____(insert wish) look like?” This forces them to sit and think about and visualize their goals in measurable and quantifiable ways. This concept is particularly important with New Year’s resolutions, as these tend to be larger goals that are by definition more difficult to attain. Try breaking these larger goals down into smaller components. For example instead of saying “I’m going to get out of debt” try “I will not use my credit card and I will pay 10% more of what I’m currently paying.” Being specific with your goals will require you to plan in advance and figure out how to make them happen, or if necessary, how to adjust them so they are realistic and attainable.
3. Set Dates: One very important component of any goal (be it running a 5K or cooking an extravagant dinner) is timing. Use this to your advantage by setting specific dates on which to check your progress and make adjustments as necessary. For instance, the example above would be further specified into: “For the next 6 months I will not use my credit and I will pay 10% more of what I’m currently paying.” Then set check-in dates on your calendar so you can monitor your progress along the way and make small changes if needed.
4. Encourage and Reward Yourself: All of us need positive reinforcement to reach difficult goals. So, along with your goals, think about what is most motivating to you and incorporate into your resolution. Keep in mind, however, that your reward doesn’t negate all your hard work; for instance, buying a shiny new thing once you’ve paid off your debt. Instead, incorporate it into your new life approach.
5. Be Accountable: Research shows us that people are more likely to comply with a behavior change if they feel that others will notice if they do or do not follow through with their goal. So use the role of social pressure to your advantage and tell a few close and positive and encouraging friends of your goal and ask them for help in periodically checking in on your progress.