How to Make a Better New Year’s Resolution
Most resolutions fail. Here’s how to make sure yours doesn’t
Ready to turn over a new leaf in the new year? At least 44 percent of Americans made New Year’s resolutions last year, vowing to firm up, slim down, spend less, improve their job prospects or read more books. Yet just 19 percent stick with their resolution for the long haul, according to a University of Scranton study that tracked 200 resolution-makers for two years.
The secret to turning your resolution into reality? Be prepared for curve balls, and celebrate every victory, large or small. That’s what researchers who study behavior change say success is all about.
Here’s how to make resolutions you can keep for all 365 days of the new year and beyond.
1. Ask yourself: Do I really think I can do it? Believing you can succeed was one of the most powerful predictors of success in the University of Scranton study. Test yours by imagining yourself in six months. Do you see a new you who’s slimmer, fitter, tobacco-free or at least partway out of credit-card debt? If not, change your goal to one you know you can reach.
2. Set a small, do-able goal. The American Psychological Association’s top tip for resolution-makers is to set goals you know you can achieve. Instead of running four miles every morning at 5 a.m., resolve to find a half-hour for exercise three days a week. Instead of dropping 50 pounds, resolve to lose ten. And don’t try to make over your whole life: Changing one thing is plenty, the APA says. Not sure how to set the right goal for you? Call on an expert. In one national survey, participants said consulting their doctor to help set health goals or a financial advisor to help formulate money goals was helpful.
3. Break your goal into steps. Diving into the nitty-gritty details helped participants in a 2014 survey of 1,039 News Years resolution-makers find success. The survey was conducted by FranklinCovey, a company that specializes in performance improvement through behavior change. Among respondents who wanted to lose weight, 67 percent said having a workout plan was the most helpful step they took; 51 percent said it was developing an eating plan. Among those who wanted to improve their financial situation, 55 percent said having a timeline with weekly, monthly and quarterly goals was their most important tool.
4. Add accountability and support. Tell a friend (or ten friends). Get a diet buddy. Join a weight-loss program with weigh-ins or use a journal, online program or smartphone app to track your progress. All of these strategies helped volunteers in the FranklinCovey survey stay on track to reach their goals.
5. Engineer your environment. Be smart about avoiding situations that could stretch your will power to the breaking point. Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy treats if you have a hard time saying no to an open box of cookies or carton of ice cream. Stay out of smoky bars if you’re trying to quit smoking. Go to bed earlier so you won’t hit the snooze button when it’s time for that an early-morning walk.
6. Be prepared for slip-ups. It’s almost inevitable: At some point you’ll have a rotten day at work and soothe your stress with ice cream or a cigarette. Or you’ll get busy or sick and skip your exercise. Behavior-change experts say the right attitude toward setbacks is to expect that they’ll happen. What counts is what you do next. Don’t blame yourself or tell yourself it’s all over. Just get back on track to keep a slip-up from turning into a backslide. And learn from the stumble so you can avoid one the next time. In the University of Scranton study, successful resolution-keepers slipped up an average of 14 times over two years, but they always recovered and ultimately stayed on track.
7. Reward yourself along the way. You lost a pound this week? Exercised three times? Didn’t smoke? Celebrate with a small treat. It could be seeing that just-released movie, buying yourself a new e-book or exercise top or carving out time for a nice soak in the tub.