It’s that time of year again! Time for New Year’s resolutions, and if you’re like nearly half of Americans, you’ve probably made a few (and maybe even broken one or two of them already).
New Year’s resolutions are a manifestation of what some researchers call the “fresh start effect”. The fresh start effect refers to people’s tendency to align life changes with a temporal milestone such as the beginning of a new semester or a birthday.
Most New Year’s resolutions go unachieved, but that doesn’t have to be you! With the right tools, you can avoid the pitfalls which sink so many people’s New Year’s resolutions.
Here are 5 tips to help your New Year’s resolutions stick.
Set Realistic Goals
Let’s be honest, there’s nothing sexy about setting realistic goals. We all want to go from 0 to 100 as quickly as possible, but the reality is that shooting for the stars may not always be to our benefit. A goal to lose 20 lbs. in a year may actually be more effective in the long run than a goal to lose 50 lbs.
This is because overly ambitious goals can quickly lead to burnout. The proper approach is to set a goal which is challenging in a way which actually inspires us to grow rather than discouraging us.
This also applies to the number of goals we set for ourselves. It can be tempting to want to improve every aspect of our lives at once. Instead, step back and prioritize your goals. Choose the two or three which are most important and focus on those.
Make A Plan
Okay, so you’ve set your goals. Now it’s time to make a plan. And no, “eating better and exercising more” when your goal is to run a marathon does not count as a plan. When a New Year’s resolution fails, it is often because there was a specific plan in place to achieve it.
A good plan is three things:
How you plan to achieve your goal should be very clear. Think of every aspect of your goal. Break it down. Ask yourself specific questions about what you need to do to achieve it and give yourself clear, specific answers.
When performance is measured, performance improves. Get a journal or an app which can help you measure your progress towards your goal. Find a way to visualize your journey. This will make it more real.
Break your big goal down into smaller goals and set specific dates for their completion. If you want to lose 50 lbs. by the end of the year, how much weight do you need to lose by March? What about June? October? Having interim goals can help you stay focused and avoid procrastination.
Don’t Go It Alone
The old saying that “two heads are better than one” applies to pursuing goals. Having someone to support you on your journey can be invaluable. Often, the difference between a New Year’s resolution kept and one which was abandoned is a friend.
Your support should be someone that you can talk to about your progress and discuss the reasons why you are pursuing this goal. Your support can offer encouragement when you are frustrated and celebrate with you when you meet important milestones.
Motivation Is Cheap
Don’t confuse motivation with commitment. It can be so easy to watch a movie or listen to an inspiring song and get caught up in a swell of motivation and excitement. But motivation wanes and inevitably dies. It is impossible to keep it up 100% of the time, and if your progress is dependent on your motivation, you will fail.
Instead, choose commitment. It is only by learning to keep commitments to ourselves when we are truly empowered to achieve our goals. When you feel yourself lacking motivation, remember commitment instead.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
No one is perfect, and your path to personal improvement is unlikely to be an unbroken chain of successes.
Some people keep their New Year’s resolutions for several months, but at the first sign of failure completely fall off the wagon. Your ability to bounce back from a missed gym day or an unscheduled cheat meal is going to be key to reaching your goal.
When failure happens, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t try to make up for your mistake either. Just move on and focus on what you need to do next. Forgive yourself and be patient.
You can do this.