New Year’s Resolutions: How to make ‘em stick
“What’s your New Year’s resolution?” Don’t you hate that question? You know what everyone is really asking: what will you do half-heartedly for a couple of months at the beginning of next year before ultimately giving up? I know that sounds cynical, but hardly anyone sticks with their New Year’s resolutions – take a trip to the gym on January 2nd and then again on January 12th and tell me the crowd hasn’t thinned out.
It may seem like an impossible task, but there are tricks you can use to help yourself stay on track.
First, make your goal SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely).
Specific: Resolving to “get in shape” is too vague to be useful.
Measurable: How can you tell if you’ve met your goal, or even made any progress if you can’t measure it? You can’t measure whether you’ve met your goal of “getting in shape,” but you can measure whether you have lost 10 pounds.
Attainable: Your goal should be a challenge, but not so big a challenge that it feels insurmountable. That’s why it’s helpful to set smaller goals for yourself leading up to that larger goal.
Realistic: Honestly, this is basically the same point as “attainable,” but “SMART” sounds a lot better than “SMAT” (unless you’re from Boston).
Timely: Give yourself an endpoint or a deadline. If you have a goal for yourself for this year, great! You already have a deadline. However, it would certainly benefit you to give yourself other preliminary deadlines between January 1st and December 31st. Otherwise, you run the risk of procrastinating all year until… whoops! It’s December again.
Remember: you can set and strive toward new goals anytime, not just on January 1st. We may feel more motivated to strive toward our goals at the beginning of a new year, or even a new month, or new week – social scientists refer to this as the fresh start effect. We gravitate toward phrases like “the diet starts on Monday” or “[insert year] is going to be my year!” when the truth is, we can start ourselves on the path to physical or mental wellness whenever we want.
What I’m saying is, don’t give in to the what-the-hell-effect. If you’ve already fallen off the wagon of your New Year’s resolution (data suggests that most of us already have), you don’t have to let that derail your entire year! Guess what? If you didn’t make it to the gym today, or yesterday, or at all in the last month, you can still go tomorrow. Beating yourself up about one misstep isn’t going to help you.
What will help you is to alter your environment to make doing the “right thing” as easy as possible. This can take many forms.
I recommend setting an implementation intention for yourself. This is a simple “If X, then I will Y” statement. For example, if your goal is to work out at the gym 3x per week, you might create an implementation like, “If it is 5 PM on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will go to the gym.” Bonus points for getting even more granular about exactly what type of workout you will do on each of those days. The more specific, the better.
Next, talk very publicly about your goal. Knowing that others are aware of your goals is a great motivator – this is why you see so many fitness accounts on social media. Chances are, they’re not just bragging; they’re holding themselves accountable.
A similar tactic is to find an accountabilibuddy. This is typically a trusted friend or family member who is also working toward a goal. Checking in with one another on your progress will motivate both of you to stick with your goals, regardless of whether you are working toward the same goal.
Above all, and I can’t emphasize this enough… Be patient with yourself! Accept that you will slip up every now and then but take solace in the fact that making a few mistakes doesn’t mean that you will never meet your goal. It means that you’re human.