“This is the year I am going to lose weight…”
“This is the year I am going to start exercising…”
“This year I am going to work harder at my job…”
“This is the year I will connect more with my partner…”
“more water, be more organized, read more, play with my kids, eat healthier, start journaling, get more sleep…”
The New Year, simultaneously representing and end and a beginning, rolls around causing two things to happen. First, we reflect on the prior year. For many, such reflection brings up things that didn’t happen, work out the way we planned, or not live up to an expectation. Why is it in our nature to look back on what didn’t work? January 1st represents a new beginning, a chance to reset, an opportunity to make things right. So, the second thing happens: we begin to look forward to the upcoming year and all the potential it holds. Enter the New Year’s Resolution. However, despite our optimism and motivation, most are not successful at maintaining the resolution longer than 6 months (https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234097 ) and even fewer after 2 years (https://doi.org/10.1016/S0899-3289(88)80016-6).
So, why do most resolutions fail? Typically, the resolution represents a goal that has not yet been met. Despite the strong desire to achieve this goal, if nothing changes about the process, we are not setting ourselves up for success. Unfortunately, we cannot just wish it into happening. The good news, though, is that there are several things that will highly enhance your success in achieving and maintaining your goal.
First you must identify the actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. It cannot just be “try harder.” There needs to be specific actions that you can do: empty the dishwasher every night, attend a support group weekly, set gym clothes out the night before. The more you can break your goal into smaller actionable items, the better. Above all, the actions that are needed to reach your goal must become habits. When working on developing and maintaining a new habit, putting the following strategies in place will greatly enhance your success.
Engaging an accountability partner or group will help you stay consistent. In the beginning, having an external source for check-ins and reporting success can motivate you to stay on track.
Find a method to track your actions. A checklist, and app on your phone, marks on the calendar. A visual representation of the habit you are doing will keep you motivated to avoid those empty spaces. However, small it is, just getting to mark that you did something can be significant positive reinforcement. I mean, don’t we all like getting that gold star?
Setting your environment up for success can make it so much easier to practice your habit. If you are trying stop scrolling through your phone before bed, put it in another room before getting into bed. It then becomes easier to not do it, then get up and go to the phone. If you want to start walking first thing in the morning, put your clothes and shoes on as soon as you get up. If you are trying to eat healthier, stock your fridge with those type of foods and purge the rest. Make it easier on yourself to succeed than not.
Anticipate Roadblocks and Set-backs
No one is perfect. Life happens, but it is how you handle challenges and set-backs that will determine long term success. When starting a new habit, write out all of the things that may derail you. Going to a party, when you are trying to drink less; kids busy schedule when you want to make more meals at home; Work demands when you are trying to make time to meditate; After identifying your potential roadblocks, write out how you can navigate them. Having a plan will help make it easier to stay the course. And if it doesn’t work? Again, life happens, accept it and get right back on plan.
Persevere through boredom
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear, talk about how boredom can be the enemy of maintaining a new habit. But persevering through these periods is probably the most important time in solidifying the habit that will ultimately lead you to reach your goal.
Having a group that shares similar goals will help you on your path to success. Being able to share strategies, resources, and work together can help motivation. You get the added benefit shared community. It is equally important to surround yourself with people that already possess the behaviors that you are working to make habit. It will be significantly easier to practice a habit when amongst other who have already established such behaviors.
So those resolutions? Don’t give up. Break it down into just 1 small action that will help you achieve it. Use the strategies above to make that action a habit and I know you will start seeing results!