Secrets to setting better
New Year's Resolutions
and how to actually stick to them
Are you surprised to hear that most new year's resolutions don't last?
It's true that very few (something like 8 or 9%) of people who set new year's resolutions actually achieve them. After just a few weeks or months of starting strong in the new year, life gets in the way and we've lost momentum with the good habits we established at the outset.
So what are some things you can do for the year ahead to make it more likely that you'll achieve your goal? Here are 7 tips for setting the right new year's goal in the first place, and how to stick with it.
1. Choose wisely
Imagine if you had to wear the same outfit every day for the next year. You wouldn't choose whatever outfit just happens to be on top of the laundry pile. You'd be thoughtful and consider all the ways you'll be wearing that outfit, planning for different activities and weather.
You should think about your annual goals the same way because you'll be cozying up together for the next 365 days. Make sure they fit as well as your favorite pair of jeans, or else you're going to be tearing them off in no time. Don't wait until December 31st to arbitrarily pick a habit and declare it your annual challenge. No. Spend time reflecting on the things that matter to you. Think about person that you want to become. How do you want to grow over the next year?
Once you've thoughtfully decided on a meaningful new year's resolution, you're ready to finesse it a bit.
2. Give it the SMART test
SMART is a popular framework to test out whether your new year's resolution is defined well. Why do you need a well-defined goal? Well, you need to have a clear picture of what success looks like so you know when you've achieved it. With a concrete destination, you'll know how far you have left to go.
Here's an example of a common resolution misstep: setting a goal like "I want to smile more." The reason this is too vague is that it's hard to know what "more" means. More than the prior year? More than your boss? Even if you have a comparison, how would you measure smiling? It's too abstract to be helpful because next year this time, how will you know if you've achieved it?
That said, a desire to smile more suggests a desire to be happier. Then you can structure your resolution around what makes you happy. A better goal then might be "cross off 5 things on my bucket list this year" or "reconnect with an old friend each month." Dig down into your goals until you can make sure it's Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
3. Rightsize it
It's time to be realistic. Think about your upcoming availability for the next year. Take an honest look at your baseline, where you are right now. A common reason that people burn out from their resolution is that they take on goals that are way too big. Or, they take on too many goals.
Now, of course it's possible to achieve big things, especially because 365 (or 366) days is a lot of time! But almost every goal is going to require changes. And change can be a little uncomfortable. What often happens is that people overestimate their ability to achieve a goal, and get discouraged when they miss a milestone. By June, half of the people who started new year's resolutions have thrown in the towel.
Our advice is to go slow and steady. Choose something you're very confident you can achieve and maintain. The worst thing that happens if you choose a goal that's too easy is that you crush your goal early! If that happens, you can take on one of those others you had lined up.
4. Create a contingency plan
What if you're one month or ten months in, and suddenly something in life comes up that makes your resolution impossible? Life is unpredictable, but it doesn't have to mean the end of your success. Instead, start planning now for a contingency plan.
For example, let's say your goal this coming year is to get promoted at your job. What happens if an unfortunate event occurs and your employer goes bankrupt?
You can't control everything. A wise idea is to structure your resolution so that you have a backup plan. In the situation above, what might a nontraditional "promotion" look like? Maybe it's your dream job at another company. Or it's finally starting that side-hustle you've been dabbling in. Having a contingency plan will ensure you make progress towards something you're proud of over the next year, no matter what life throws at you.
5. Break it down now
Time is limited. Break your resolution down into milestones and associate them with chunks of time. When does it make sense to check in on your progress?
For daily habits, crossing off each day on a calendar makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, a giant goal like running your first marathon requires a lot of intermediate steps (e.g., signing up for the race, training, logistics). For big goals, list out all of the steps required to achieve it. Put the steps in an order that makes sense. Estimate how much time each step will take, and give yourself some wiggle room.
Continuing with the marathon example: if your goal is to complete your first marathon next November, you may want to aim for a half marathon by September, a 10k race by July, and start long distance training runs in June. What would you do from January to June? You could increase your weekly mileage, research which course you'll do, register for the marathon, join a run club, invest in necessary gear, cross-train with other exercises, etc. Each step gets you a little closer to that ultimate goal.
6. Hold yourself accountable
How do you make sure you don't fall behind on your goals? External accountability. By putting structure in place from the get-go that requires you to check in on your progress, you ensure that you won't forget about and lose interest in your new year's resolution. It's that nudge you need to take consistent action.
External accountability can be as automated as a calendar reminder on your phone, or as hands-on as a premier life coach who checks in on you regularly. It can be having an accountability partner through an app like Supporti, where you and a buddy check in on your daily actions.
What's key is that you are somehow following up on your resolution and that there are consequences for missing milestones. These consequences can be small, but there must be some impact. For some people, not being able to cross an item off their to-do list is painful enough to motivate them to act. For other people, letting down someone who is cheering for you is a powerful motivator.
7. Track your progress
Even if you don't successfully achieve your new year's goals, it's valuable to look at how far you've come in the process. If you don't track your progress, however, it's easy to shrug it off and add another year to the "loss" pile.
You can track your progress quantitatively if it's something easy to measure, like weight loss. For any goal, though, you can track progress by simply keeping a log of notes and writing down wins periodically. No success is too small! Little things add up to big changes.
Imagine how it will feel at this time next year when you reflect on how far you've come. Expect setbacks along the way, and remind yourself of what you have already achieved. Seeing progress is a long-term motivator. Aim for progress, not perfection.
Cheers to the new year and a better you!