Every year around this time many people reflect on the past year and make commitments for the year to come. New Year’s resolutions are one of our most popular seasonal traditions, and according to a poll conducted by YouGov, the most common New Year’s resolution goals in the United States are to eat better, exercise more, and to save money.
While making a New Year’s resolution might be a great way to make a positive change in your life, it’s extremely rare for us to honor those commitments in any lasting way. U.S. News, reported that about 80% of resolutions fail by mid-February, so the odds are definitely against us. This isn’t to say that we should stop trying, though. Let’s look instead at some of the most common reasons why we fail to meet our own expectations and examine how we can resolve to set better resolutions for 2019.
Getting Healthy is Top Priority, but 92% Will Fail
It’s interesting that the top two resolutions are both variations on the theme of improving one’s health. Losing weight and getting healthy in general are also some of the most easily and commonly broken resolutions, and studies show that we overwhelmingly throw in the towel. One study from the University of Scranton finds that only 8% of us will actually achieve our resolution goals. In fact, there’s a term in clinical psychology for the cycle of repeated, failed attempts to change ourselves: “False Hope Syndrome”, and it’s particularly common among people trying to lose weight.
Think about it:
A resolution to change, followed by trying and failing, followed by another, similar resolution and failure is a cycle so common that the National Institute of Health has determined that it is a psychological condition.
So just why are so many New Year’s resolutions doomed to fail before we even begin? We’ve identified five of the most common reasons why so many of us just can’t seem to make it work.
- You’re not passionate enough about it.
- It’s not specific enough.
- You don’t have a plan.
- You didn’t budget for it.
- No one is holding you accountable.
Creating durable resolutions is rarely easy, and – let’s be honest – most of them wouldn’t be so worthwhile if they were, but by leveraging some psychological hacks we can trick ourselves into staying on target, and getting to our goal will be that much simpler.
Set SMART Goals
Successful people set SMART goals. What is SMART? It’s the idea that all goals should be:
- Relevant, and
Without a concrete goal, you’re wandering aimlessly toward nothing in particular. Rather than fixating on the nebulous goal of ‘losing weight’, pick some numbers. Focusing on a specific amount of weight in a reasonable period of time will meet all five of the above criteria.
Think Big, Start Small
Any task is easier to perform when we break it down and handle it methodically. Try decomposing your grand goal into smaller SMART goals and taking them on one at a time.
Let Your Calendar Be Your Guide
One of the critical components of a SMART goal is its time-boxed nature. Organizing your mini goals on a calendar can help you keep track of what you’re supposed to be doing and when. Setting aside time in the week to plan and prepare healthy meals in advance, or blocking off time on your calendar to be at the gym will give you appointments to keep, and will help keep you from getting too busy to stay on track.
Accentuate the Positive
You know what the worst part is of any diet? All the things you CAN’T do! Negative framing can make any resolution seem like a prison. Rather than saying, “I’m giving up desserts,” try saying, “I will eat fresh fruits for dessert.” Instead of making a resolution to swear off soda, try making a goal to drink a healthy amount of water each day (which will have the side-benefit of pushing soda out of your diet). Focus on the good in the changes you’ll be making, and stop sweating the negative things you’ll be giving up.
What I Can’t Do, We Can
Communicating what we’re doing externally has a ton of benefits. It forces us to actually say what’s in our hearts, and when it comes out of our mouths and back in through our ears it reinforces our resolve. Further, getting our friends and family in the loop means we’ll have their support on our path. Additionally, sharing our journey with others makes us accountable for our progress, and gives us positive feedback in response to our efforts.
Easy Does It
In addition to being creatures of habit, we tend to be very much ‘all or nothing’ about things. The first time we have a lapse in judgement and come home from the store with a tray of cinnamon rolls, or when we cave in and order a slab of chocolate cake after a month of great progress, there’s a tendency to say, “Well, there I go failing again. I guess that’s that.”
‘Twenty miles in, twenty miles out,’ as the saying goes. We didn’t get to a place of feeling like we have to make a resolution over the course of a couple months, and it’s going to take time and commitment to get where we’re going. Just because we realize a need for change and start taking positive steps doesn’t mean we’re cured of being human, and if we can’t forgive ourselves for temporarily reverting to type, our efforts won’t survive our impulses.