January 1st will soon be here and for many people that means it’s time to start their annual New Year’s Resolutions. Research suggests, however, that only a fraction of people actually keep those well-intentioned resolutions. If you’re like most people, your resolve to get in better shape, declutter your home, learn a new language, or read, more likely dissipates by the time February rolls around. Gyms around the country are packed with people after the New Year, but treadmills become much more available after one month or two!
Here are some ways to set and achieve your New Year’s Resolutions:
Be realistic by setting achievable goals. Some of the biggest mistakes people make are setting goals that are too broad, too big, or too many. Your resolutions should be absolutely clear and describe them in specific terms. Instead of “I want to be a better person” which, according to one poll, was 2017’s top resolution, think of specific behaviors which you feel will make you a better person and resolve to act on those behaviors. Find alternatives to a behavior that you want to change and make this part of your resolution plan. Do you want to quit smoking but you smoke to relax? Find other forms of relaxation that don’t include smoking.
Understand that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and changing them will take time, as well. Your timeline toward reaching your goals should be realistic. For years experts used to think it took about 21 days to form a new habit. Current thinking from a landmark 2009 study is that 66 days is much more realistic.
Break down large goals into smaller ones. For instance, if you want to lose weight resolve to join a gym and improve your eating habits. If you would like to make more friends, you could look into joining a club that interests you and volunteer for a cause you believe in.
Setting deadlines is a key to success, especially when dealing with big goals. You can only successfully break a goal down into smaller steps if you set deadlines for each step. It makes your goals more concrete and creates the urgency for you to begin. Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolutions may be.
Before you start acting on your resolutions, think about the potential barriers that might get in the way and identify contingency plans for how you will respond in those moments. Slips-ups while reaching toward your goals are completely normal. Don’t give up completely because of a minor transgression such as eating a few cookies or skipping the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track. Be compassionate with yourself, acknowledge your slip-ups, and move on. Identify an important reason why you are resolving to change something in your life. Reminding yourself of that will keep you motivated, even if you experience a setback.
Share your experiences with family and friends and accept help from others. Consider joining a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a smoking cessation group at work. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey toward achieving your goals that much easier and less intimidating.
Celebrate the small steps and achievements along the way. And, even if you run out of steam before achieving your goals, remember that you can start over again. You don’t have to wait for a new year to make a resolution to better yourself.