How to Use Scientific Principles to Help You Stick with Your New Year’s Resolutions, Goals, and Plans
Below, you’ll find a blueprint for setting and pursuing your New Year’s resolutions – or any goal, for that matter – since these principles are timeless. So, let me ask you, is your New Year’s Resolution worth a few minutes of your time? Because if you’ve been struggling to achieve your goals and make things happen in your life, then learning these principles of success could be the most important few minutes you spend all year.
I’ve written about New Year’s Resolutions before. So, you may already know how I feel about them. But despite the fact that I don’t set them myself, a lot of people do. And yet, the vast majority of people setting these resolutions fail – a whopping 92% according to a recent study from the University of Scranton. And interestingly enough, most people give up right around this time – a few weeks into January – especially those who set health-related goals like weight loss. But you knew that already.
But why does this happen? Well, here is a brief explanation from the all-knowing Wikipedia…
“The most common reason for participants failing their New Years’ Resolutions was setting themselves unrealistic goals (35%), while 33% didn’t keep track of their progress and a further 23% forgot about it. About one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions.” (Source)
So, first things first, don’t set an unrealistic goal. And if you did set an unrealistic goal – whether as a resolution or not – then change it. Obviously, it should be doable. But more importantly than that, you have to believe not only that you can achieve it, but that you will do the work necessary each day to do so (ie starting now). And if you don’t, it’ll never happen.
Secondly, you must keep track of your progress in some way, shape, or form. It doesn’t necessarily require a complicated system, but some measures should be taken to track your progress. If you don’t, then you won’t know if you’re actually moving toward your goal or not – at least, you won’t be able to verify any measurable progress. As a result, you won’t know if what you’re doing is actually working (or how well it’s working). And that’s kindof important.
In fact, a couple of researchers from the University of Washington discovered “that the more monitoring a person does and the more feedback the person is getting about their progress, the better they will do” (Source). So, don’t ignore the value of tracking your progress!
Now, let me get something straight here. If you forget about your resolution, then you either a) didn’t really make one (at least, not when you were sober), or more likely, b) didn’t make a resolution that’s important enough to you. So, if you don’t have an important reason why you need to make this change, then it’s highly unlikely you’ll make it. You have to want it – badly. And it must be personal – not something you’re doing to please or appease someone else.
Finally, don’t make the mistake of making too many resolutions. If you chase two rabbits, you’ll catch neither of them. Trust me, I’ve actually tried to catch a rabbit, and getting just one is hard enough! (true story for another time, perhaps)
So, identify the most important thing you need to do. What is your number one goal? What needs to be your highest priority? Focus on that one thing for now. Don’t decide that you need to change everything all at once. Do whatever is most important to you right now.
More from Wikipedia…
“Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying “lose weight”), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.” (Source)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Setting goals can make or break your success. So, make sure you do it right. I’ve got lots of resources in the Goal Setting and Achievement archive to help you out. And I also have provided my personal system of setting goals in a special report, courtesy of PhysicalLiving.com here: Goal-Setting Simplified (PDF).
If you don’t go through the whole special report, here’s a key point that is critical to your success. When it comes to goal setting, it’s important to have your end-point in mind – and some milestones to keep track of your progress along the way. But you also need to focus on the process of achieving your goals. What activities and tasks do you need to do in order to succeed? Focus on those, and integrate them into your actual goal setting process (e.g. “I am going to eat one serving of protein and vegetables at each meal and do calisthenics for 20 minutes a day,” instead of just “I’m going to lose weight.”).
Now, guys, take a lesson from the ladies and get some social support from your friends. Make your goals public. And make sure that you tell at least one person who will hold you to it, and bust your chops if you fall off the wagon. It can be online or offline. Tell a friend. Find a training partner. Join a group or class. Get some support now for those times when it starts to gets tough.
Speaking of which, it will be helpful if you acknowledge beforehand (right now would be a good time) that you will be tempted to quit at some point, and in all likelihood, you will fail. Do this ahead of time so that you can expect it and foresee it happening. And then decide what you’ll do when this happens. Have a plan that will help you get back on track. Don’t convince yourself that you’ll just “handle it” or make a plan when it finally happens. Do what you have to do now.
More Tips For Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick
For these last few tips, I don’t have scientific references to cite, but these suggestions are just as critical to your success as the former ones.
Make sure that you take small steps toward your goal each day – baby steps. This is the easiest way to get started and the easiest way to keep going. Seriously, baby steps work for so many reasons. They are a critical component of successfully making changes in your life. And I’ll keep shouting it from the rooftops until the day I die. So, just do it.
Some people also find that giving themselves a reward for succeeding in their plan can help them, too. I can’t say that I’ve used rewards very much personally. I’ve found the process itself and the results themselves are reward enough. But you may find this strategy valuable like others do.
And if I could throw in one last tip from my own personal experience: choose a goal that is not only meaningful to you, but that will be enjoyable to pursue. And make it a point to enjoy the process. That’s a secret of the masters, and I’ve talked about it at length several times before (click here for one example).
The New Year’s Resolution Pattern of Success
To put it all together, I found this helpful snippet from a DHHS article by Dr. Kirsti A. Dyer:
“Many years ago, researchers Miller and Marlatt at the University of Washington discovered there were key steps to making a successful resolution. These researchers discovered that people who were successful in keeping their resolutions:
-Had a strong initial commitment to make a change
-Had coping strategies to deal with problems that will come up
-Kept track of their progress” (Source)
The Bottom Line
Are you starting to notice a pattern here? There are many things that are important when it comes to successfully achieving your goals, and it can’t necessarily be summed up in a checklist. Each strategy that you integrate into your plan will give you slightly better chances of success. If you ignore one or two of them, you will have a hard time achieving your goals. And if you miss one of the critical components, then you won’t succeed – period. So, take the process seriously. Work on creating new, positive habits. And take small steps each and every day to make it happen.
But here’s the thing: before you do anything else, you need to level with yourself and ask if – deep down – you’re really ready to make this life change. The answer to that question will make all the difference.
So, whether you call it a New Year’s Resolution, a goal, or just an intention, make up your mind about what you’re going to do, and then as social psychologist, Emily Belcitas, says in her insightful TED talk on why some people find exercise harder than others, “keep your eye on the prize.”
If you follow these simple instructions as best you can, you’ll greatly increase your likelihood of success. Speaking of which…
This video by Dr. Mike Evans may shed some additional insight on how to increase your chances of success with your New Year’s Resolutions.
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Health-First Fitness Coach