It’s almost the New Year—the time to reflect on your aspirations and set meaningful goals to improve your health and happiness. This always sounds great but how often do you actually keep your New Year’s resolutions past January?
Not too often, apparently. Research has found that 52% of resolution-makers were confident that they’d achieve their goals, yet only 12% succeeded.
What was the secret to being successful? Those who took meaningful steps to achieve their resolutions—setting step-by-step goals or telling their friends and family, for example—were far more likely to reach their desired endpoint compared to those who made no specific commitments.
Why Do People Make Resolutions?
A New Year’s resolution is a tradition in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life. This goes back millenia:
- 4000 years ago, the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.
- The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus (for whom the month of January is named).
- In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.
- At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions.
Making resolutions has many other religious parallels. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People can act similarly during the Christian season of Lent, (although the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility) and the Methodist practice of New Year’s resolutions came, in part, from the Lenten sacrifices.
The concept of resolutions, regardless of creed, is to annually reflect upon self-improvement.
Sticking To Your Resolutions
If you are determined to maintain your resolutions and actually see results this year, it is critical that you set your goals with sincerity, as well set yourself up for success.
A common mistake you might make is setting big, nebulous goals like, “I’ll be healthier.” Instead, make your resolution specific, with a tangible, achievable outcome. Rather than saying, “I want to eat better,” determine how you actually want to improve your nutrition. Why are you looking to eat better, and what will eating better support you with in your life?
Next, visualize what good will come when your goals and desires are met. What does it feel like? What does it look like? It also helps to have something simple, tangible, and positive to repeat to yourself over and over again. “I will be able to deadlift my bodyweight because I’m healthy and strong,” is not only positive reinforcement, but it’s a quantifiable goal that you can check in with and make your reality.
Make It Easy.
A recent study showed that people who travelled 8km to the gym went once a month, whereas people who travelled 6km went five or more times a month. Although it may not seem like a lot, creating a plan that is easy to implement will give you less opportunity to not accomplish it on a daily or weekly basis.
Many people also find themselves quitting because a goal is too big and the steps required are too much of a stretch, requiring too much effort and action all at once. You can get immediate rewards from very small steps.
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Write it Down
Write down your goals and outline the small, manageable steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve them. If you set a big goal—say, embarking on a Paleo diet—without a step-by-step plan, it can be overwhelming and trigger frustration or negative thoughts that get in the way of your success. But by planning and accomplishing one small thing at a time, you’ll stay on track, focused, and positive.
Be sure to set aside ample time for yourself to achieve your goals. If you really want to meal plan and prep, you might set aside a regular two to three-hour block on a specific day every week to get this done. You can also plan one day every month to go through recipe books and create meal plans. If you want to exercise more, plot out time in your weekly schedule for getting outside and time at the gym.
Move Past Doubt
Keep tabs on how often you “unset” your goals with your thoughts. Pay attention to self-sabotaging mind chatter, like: “I’m not in the mood” or “I can’t do it.” Every thought you have is an intention. It’s normal to feel fear, doubt, or worry. However, in order to make progress, it’s important to move past those negative feelings.
If you find negative thoughts surfacing, don't criticize yourself, and do your best to maintain control. If your thoughts fail to support you or your goals, let them go as they are doing you no good. Replace them with your positive mantra, instead.
Never underestimate the power of social approval. Simply knowing you will be held accountable for your habit keeps you focused and consistent.
Having a group, partner, friend, or professional to encourage you can be a great way to keep you going. Try finding a friend who has a similar resolution, and check in with each other every week to talk about your progress and challenges. You could also ask a family member or significant other to keep you accountable as long as they are supportive and positive.
You could also track your efforts and make public declarations about your new habit. You are more likely to follow through with a commitment when you are being observed by others. To stick with this new routine, you should let others know about your efforts and goals. People who monitor behaviour tend to do a better job, even if they’re not actively trying to change.
Seeking professional help, whether that's a personal trainer to help you meet your fitness goals or a counselor who can help you tackle larger, looming issues such as low self-confidence or a lack of direction is yet another option. If you are dealing with issues of self-doubt, these can seriously get in the way of you meeting your other goals—so do yourself a favor, and address such issues head on.
You are more likely to avoid progressing with your goals when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Spend a little time every day to getting out of your thoughts and reconnecting with yourself. Try a breathing exercise, meditation, yoga, or simply going for a walk. The more practice you have being still and calm, the more present you will find yourself for each step of achieving your goals. Being more present may be one of your goals too!!!
Celebrate Small Successes
Acknowledge yourself between milestones rather than waiting for the goal to be finally completed. To remain motivated, it is important to feel rewarded frequently and regularly as a way of sustaining repetition of the new behaviour. Every time you successfully or even partially successfully make steps towards achieving your goals, design and implement some type of reward for yourself. Ideally, the reward should be immediate and something that makes achieving your goals more enjoyable.
Setting and reaching goals isn’t about willpower, it’s about the power of your intention. Once you’ve mastered these few steps, you’ll be well-equipped to follow through on your resolutions—this time, for good.