After the excess of the holidays, and with the promise of a brand new year ahead, most of us are ready to turn over a new leaf. New year, new you. A fresh start. The beginning of a new year lets us move forward and look to the future. About half of Americans make a New Year’s resolution, with the most common ones being to save more money, eat healthier, lose weight, and exercise more. However, research shows that about 46% of us are still committed to our resolutions by the middle of the year, and only 19% actually end up accomplishing our goals. So how can we beat those odds?
Make Goals Instead of Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions are broad and vague: declutter the house, get healthy. Goals are more specific: clean out the hall closet, walk 30 minutes a day. When you set smaller, more targeted goals for yourself, you’re much more likely to accomplish them. You can focus on what you need to do to reach those goals, instead of dwelling on the large, intimidating end result. Some management experts refer to realistic goals as SMART goals, which means goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example, a goal of losing some weight is too broad, but a goal of losing two inches off your waistline by the time you go on vacation in June is SMART.
Start by committing to changes that are practical and realistic. For example, if you want to get more exercise this year, don’t resolve to start spending an hour at the gym every day. Commit instead to a walk a few times a week. When you get used to that, maybe start adding in more exercise or try to walk every day.
Keep It Small
Break down your goals into manageable chunks. New Year’s resolutions can seem unattainable and overwhelming as a whole, so focus instead on realistic steps. Small steps are easier to maintain, too. Instead of making sweeping changes on January 1st, try to work these changes into your lifestyle. Psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD reminded us, “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”
Make Changes One at a Time
You might have recognized more than one behavior you want to change this year. But feeling like you need to reassess and fix everything in your life can be overwhelming. The American Psychological Association suggests trying to make one change at a time. You’re much less likely to give up on your goals if you’re not trying to alter everything in your life at once.
Give It Time
Unhealthy habits – whether it’s spending too much money, smoking, or overeating – take time to develop. So replacing these habits with healthy ones can take time, too. And if you slip up, don’t be too hard on yourself. When studying people who were successful in keeping their New Year’s resolutions, researchers found that 71% of successful people slipped in the first month. Interestingly, these lapses encouraged them to try harder. Persistence is the key, and lapses are part of the process. Just remind yourself of your goal, remember why you felt the need to make this change, and try again.
Talk about your goals. Tell your friends and family that you’ve committed to a goal that you really want to keep. They can help keep you on track. If you have a friend with a similar goal, that’s even better. If you’ve pledged to get more exercise, find a workout buddy or join an exercise class. If you’re trying to eat healthier, find a healthy cooking class. You can encourage each other to stay on track.