Humans have an innate desire to improve. That we consistently make new year’s resolutions – despite almost certainly never keeping them – is telling evidence.
We tend to set broad goals for ourselves, such as losing weight or keeping fit (sound familiar?). And not just one or two of them – we often go for broke and create a long list of things we want to achieve.
And the following year, we’re surprised when we dig out the good ol’ list and realized we ticked off… none of the items.
Don’t worry though, we’re here to help set you up for success in 2017. Let’s have a look at the main reasons why we forget our new year’s resolutions by the time February comes around, and ways to combat that forgetfulness.
Too many vague resolutions
Often, I secretly wonder if we want ourselves to fail in reaching our goals. After all, a vague resolution like losing weight is deliberately vague – it could mean anything between losing 1 to 100 pounds.
Now, imagine having 20 to 30 of these resolutions on your list! You’d either burn through them really fast – and accomplish nothing – or never even begin.
Here’s how to guarantee success:
Only focus on one major goal you want to achieve this year, and be really, really specific about it.
For example, instead of just losing weight, state down exactly how much weight you want to lose (e.g. 10 pounds) in a certain number of months (e.g. 6 months).
Make an action plan
Now you have one single, specific goal to work towards. Great! You’re on track.
Next up: to ensure you will keep at it. Create a game plan that details how you will go about working towards your goal. Don’t worry, you can always tweak the plan along the way according to circumstances, but make sure you have something that you can fall back on.
Author of The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg tells Huffington Post that the main reason why we fail at keeping our resolutions is simply because we’re “designing them wrong.” Instead, we should be “writing a list of actions we’re going to take and thinking hard about how to structure those behaviors so that they become habits.”
How can we do this? Using our previous example of “losing 10 pounds in 6 months,” some actionable items might include “eating fast food only once a month” or “visiting the gym at 9 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday weekly.”
Once these activities have been set, you can look into how to achieve them, such as “taking a new route to work that avoids fast food outlets” or “buying a new pair of running shoes.”Make an action plan! Well structured behaviors become habits. Click To Tweet
Track your progress, reward yourself
Now the real work begins.
Make it easy for yourself to get started, until it’s no longer difficult, but becomes a habit. For example, prepare your gym outfit or running shoes and leave them in a visible place for yourself to wear as soon as you come home from work. Once repeated a few times, it will become automatic and you’ll no longer have to think about it. You’ll know: I enter home, I put on my running shoes.
Once you’ve started, be sure to start ticking off the actionable items you’ve outlined as you complete them. Witnessing yourself make headway towards the finishing line – even if it’s just baby steps – will be the fuel that keeps you going.
Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer call this the Progress Principle:
“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
More importantly, each “win” acts as a “reward” that tells your brain that working towards your resolution is a good thing to do. This is what Charles Duhigg calls a “habit loop.” That is, a cue (visiting the gym at 9 a.m.), the behavior (working out), and finally, the reward (crossing off the item from your list).
To make the habit stick further, consider giving yourself an even better reward for completing certain critical items. For instance, allow yourself to have a piece of chocolate after every gym session. It might seem minor, but after a while your brain will start to associate that little bit of enjoyment with the activity performed prior to it – and crave it.
Have reminders everywhere
In the midst of our busy lives, it’s inevitable that resolutions might slip our minds once in a while. To counter this, make sure that your goals are written and displayed in places that you have no choice but to pay attention.
For instance, you could create and print out a copy of your resolution (see below!) – together with the action plan – and stick it on the wall in front of your table. You could even enlist the help of an “accountability buddy”, someone you can trust to check-in with you regularly. Some workout apps such as Runkeeper or Nike+ Run Club have the option to add friends and track progress together. A simple competitive factor adds an extra motivation!
To really make it stick, you should also declare your goal in a public domain, such as your Facebook page or Twitter profile. This way, you’ll be constantly incentivized to make it work, or suffer possible humiliation at the hands of your social network.
We hope these tips help you make more achievable new year’s resolutions and keep you motivated for longer!
Here’s an example of an infographic you can create and stick to your wall, fridge or simply keep at your desk. We used the 2016 New Year Resolution template and customized it creating an action plan for one of the possible resolutions. Be it reading more books, spending more quality time with your family, practising your public speaking skills or learning how to play a new instrument – give your resolution a real chance and create your own action plan, starting today.
Let us know how it goes and have a wonderful start of the New Year!