With the season of New Year’s resolutions upon us, there is one thing likely to be troubling many—if not all—of us. How do we make them stick? Below I have compiled 12 ways that will help you make sure your resolution doesn’t fade to gray on the 3rd of January.
Just because it’s called a “New Year’s” resolution doesn’t mean you can’t start preparing right now. Don’t just announce something at a party 15 seconds before you welcome the New Year, decide on which goal to pursue in advance and start getting into the specifics.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the need to “go big” because of the occasion. Be smart, start small. When you get a better feel for what is manageable for you, you can gradually increase the difficulty and commitment.
There’s no need to outline every second, just get the daily and weekly plans and goals down so you have something to work on. The best kind of plan, and only one that truly works, is the one that gets improved as you go along. If your goal is to quit excessive drinking or smoking, instead of outlining the daily actions, you can focus on things to do when you feel completely overwhelmed by the need to have a drink or smoke.
Imagine this scenario, you wake up, wash your face, brush your teeth and then spend the next 30 minutes working towards your goal. Face unblinking, not even thinking about what you are doing because it has become second nature. This is probably the ultimate dream for anyone who has a goal. The way to get there is daily commitment.
Aim to set aside exactly the same time every day for working towards your goal. Try to never have a day where you do absolutely nothing. That can often lead to doubts and eventually giving up. For people who want to quit a particular habit, a good idea can often be to find a healthier replacement. When you would usually go out for a smoke, you can try to meditate, or drink ice cold water, or do a mini-tea ceremony.
One study shows that by announcing your goals while they are still vague, you create a false sense of accomplishment, and because they are too vague to follow through on in a comprehensive manner, nothing happens. In another study, where the goals were very specific, telling other people boosted the success rate significantly. So, while it’s important to leverage social accountability, don’t rush it. I know it can be exciting, but you should use that energy towards your goal, not towards telling other people about it.
First of all this is can be a way to determine what it is you are doing that has the largest effect. If you’re a believer in the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule), 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of the results. That means that some of what you do is likely superfluous. So, if you track your progress, you can for example focus on different things and see what yields the best results, and then trim the fat. This is also a way to reinforce the fact that you are actually on your way to succeeding. And the longer you succeed, the harder it will be to suddenly give up.
Perspective has a lot to do with how we experience our daily lives. If you choose to focus on the negative, you are much more likely to give up than if you manage to always focus on the progress you do make, instead of the set backs. Even if you’re usually a Negative Nancy, you can trick yourself into becoming more positive by always making a big deal out of progress. Handwriting huge check marks next to every day you managed to stick to your goals, or mini-celebrating every minor milestone can be reminders to keep your focus where it should be.
A study has shown that focusing too much on progress can tempt people to be counterproductive. This seems to mainly be a problem with people whose aim is to lose weight. After making progress they would have a tendency to reward themselves with unhealthy foods, whereas rewarding yourself with a drink after staying sober seems a bit too obviously counter productive.
The problem with not acknowledging your progress is that you will lose steam, possibly even giving up in the long run. So, celebrate your victories, but be careful that it’s not too counter productive. If you’re losing weight, try rewarding yourself with your favorite things besides food: maybe a warm bath and some classical music, your favorite hobby, hanging out with friends, or watching a great movie.
Other than allowing you to escape the dreadful feeling of challenging something completely alone, there is another aspect to partnering. You can keep each other in check. When you’re attempting something on your own, it’s easy to be lenient and give yourself days off for no reason. But a partner will see through that bull, and keep you on your toes, always moving forward. Of course, if you notice that he or she is becoming a bad influence, try to distance yourself as much as possible. And if he or she is doing better than you, don’t let that demotivate you. Awaken your competitive instincts and catch up!
Recent studies have shown that people who have a money incentive lose more weight than those who don’t. And people have a tendency to prefer avoiding losses rather than the potential for making money. So, rather than promising yourself a treat if you succeed, you could try Stickk. Stickk is a website where you end up giving money to a charity you disagree with if you should fail. Of course, how motivating this is depends on the amount of money you choose to commit, as there is no standard amount. If you succeed, you get your money back to do with whatever you want.
Many of you would argue that this should be the first step, but that’s not necessarily the case. I’ve seen people with no faith going through the motions, seeing some progress and then finally believing it was possible. In fact, I’ve been one of them as well. Once you reach a point where you find yourself thinking, “Wow, I can really do this!” then it’s a lot easier to leverage that belief to commit harder to the goal you have set for yourself. That’s the reason why we start small and work our way up, instead of starting out failing and confirming doubts we had about our ability to push through.
It’s the second you admit failure and throw in the towel that you fail, and not a second before. It doesn’t matter if you caved and smoked one cigarette, as long as you get back on track. Never make a big deal about a small failure, it can really mess with your mojo. I remember one time I caved and ate unhealthy food for one day and I almost completely gave up the idea of losing weight, defaulting into my old thinking where I would blame genetics and fate. There is still plenty of time left in the New Year. Don’t let your commitment go to waste by giving up early.
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