It’s the day after Christmas, and we’re in the middle of Chanukah. New Year isn’t until next week. You haven’t even considered what arbitrary, lofty goal you will spout off to family and friends when they ask about your New Year’s Resolution.
Unless your standard resolution is “I’m giving up making New Year’s Resolutions,” you probably haven’t kept one in…ever. You have never kept your New Year’s resolution. You are not alone. Most attempts to follow through with resolutions fail by January 12th, according to a study by Strava.
It’s a sad statistic considering most people look at the New Year as an opportunity to improve their health by getting out of debt, improving their financial situation, eating healthier, or getting more exercise. But the real issue is not the creation of the goal itself; it is the strategy most people use to follow through.
If Bob tells everyone his New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight, he’ll probably pick up a gym membership or go on a strict diet starting January 2nd. By January 12th, he has made it to the gym two or three times, where he was surrounded by equipment and fitness enthusiasts to whom he keeps unconsciously comparing himself. His diet has him eating mostly salads.
As a result, he is always hungry and desperately wants a hamburger. He lost maybe three pounds of water weight in the past couple weeks, and really, is it worth being thinner if it means eating salad all the time and being judged by people every time you walk into the gym?
You don’t have to be Bob this year. Here are three ways you can work to keep your New Year’s Resolution:
- Create Goals with Definition – Bob’s main goal was to lose weight but not how much. It must have been more than three pounds. Since he did not say how much he wanted to drop, there was no way to measure his progress or success. According to the “Goal Setting Theory,” specific, high goals induce higher performance than vague goals. If Bob had planned to lose 50 pounds, he could have looked at the three pounds he lost as a component of the end goal. By keeping his resolution vague, he increased the likelihood of failure.
- Set Micro-Goals – What if Bob looked at his lifestyle to see what, specifically, could be contributing to his current weight? He discovers he eats out four times a week, sits for more than ten hours a day, eats hardly any vegetables, and loves donuts a little too much. He lists those items out and thinks about how he can address each one.
- He can minimize his restaurant visits to two times a week.
- He can request a convertible desk at work and set a timer to make sure he stands for several hours each day or go for a 20-minute walk.
- He can eat at least one cup of vegetables with lunch or dinner.
- He can set a specific day of the week for donuts.
- Now Bob has micro-goals he can address one at a time. “Breaking tasks down helps us see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks because we simply don’t know where to begin,” says Melissa Gratias, Ph.D., workplace and productivity coach and speaker (trello).
- Create Habits – It takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to develop a behavior into a habit. On average, new habits require around 66 days to form. But humans hate waiting for results. When we achieve goals, check a box, or scratch something off a to-do list, we get a nice kick of dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and motivation.
- To create healthier habits, Bob should further break down each micro-goal into steps he can check off to track his ongoing success. If he were to begin by tackling his tendency to eat out four times a week, Bob could create a daily and weekly checklist to mark off steps toward each of his micro-goals. Some actions may be daily, while others are weekly. However, each item provides him with one more thing he can check off his list. This strategy maximizes Bob’s chances for a dopamine release and reinforces his commitment with each success.
While the majority of people are calling it quits by January 12th, you don’t have to be one of them. Rather than arbitrarily picking a big goal, follow these steps to think it through, create a plan, and generate a system of reward. New Year’s Resolutions are usually about improving quality of life through healthier physical and financial choices. Set your goal thoughtfully this year and keep it!