Psychological Strategies That Can Help You Stick to Your Goals
The start of a new year is the perfect time to turn a new page, which is probably why so many people make New Year’s resolutions. The new year often feels like a fresh start and a great opportunity to change bad habits and establish new routines that will help you grow psychologically, emotionally, socially, physically, or intellectually.
Of course, resolutions are much easier to make than to keep, and by the end of March, many of us have abandoned our resolve and settled back into our old patterns. Part of the problem may be that we do not know how to keep New Year’s resolutions, despite our good intentions.
Why do millions of people resolve to change at the beginning of every year? A series of studies into what researchers have dubbed the “fresh start effect” has looked at how temporal landmarks can motivate aspirational behaviors.
The new year feels like a new beginning, which is why so many people often set lofty resolutions during these times. While this practice can sometimes lead people to bite off more than they can chew, going after resolutions can also present great opportunities to overcome struggles with willpower, determination, and ingenuity.
Some of the most common resolutions include:
While many people feel that they don’t achieve their resolution goals, one study showed that those who set New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to actually change their behavior than people who don’t make these yearly goals.
So how long do resolutions last? While most surveys suggest that the majority of people don’t stick with their New Year’s resolutions for long, one 2020 study found that 55% of participants considered themselves successful at sustaining resolutions after a year.
In that study, researchers found that people were more successful at keeping approach-oriented goals (such as changing eating or sleeping habits) rather than avoidance-oriented ones (which are motivated by a desire to avoid something).
Even if resolutions don’t always stick, that doesn’t mean that resolutions aren’t worth making. One survey conducted by YouGov found that people who planned to make New Year’s resolutions were more optimistic about the future.
So, what can you do to make it more likely that you will keep your next resolution? The following tips may help you beat the odds.
Make Your Health Goals S.M.A.R.T.
Every year, millions of adults resolve to “lose weight,” “be more productive,” or “get in shape” during the next year. Instead of selecting such an ambiguous goal, focus on something more concrete that you can realistically set your sights on. In other words, choose a very specific, achievable goal.
For example, you might commit to losing 10 pounds, making daily to-do lists, or running a half-marathon. Be sure to make your goal realistic rather than drastic. Choosing a concrete, achievable goal also gives you the opportunity to plan exactly how you are going to accomplish (and stick to) your goal over the course of the year.
While you might have a long list of potential New Year’s resolutions, pick just one and focus your energies on it rather than spreading yourself too thin among a number of different objectives.
Focus on One Goal at a Time
Achieving even one small goal can boost your belief in yourself. For larger goals, consider breaking them apart into manageable chunks to work on one at a time. Also focus on just one behavior at a time is more likely to lead to long-term success.
Taking on too much all at once can be daunting. It can be particularly difficult because establishing new behavioral patterns takes time and sustained effort. Focusing on one specific goal makes keeping a resolution much more achievable.
Don’t wait until the last minute to choose your goal. Picking wisely and putting in extensive planning are essential parts of achieving any goal. Experts suggest that you brainstorm how you will tackle a major behavior change, including the steps you will take, why you want to do it, and ways you can keep yourself on track.
Creating a detailed written plan can help you stick to your goal. Why is this stage so critical for success? For one thing, it allows you to consider what tactics you will use when you’re faced with challenges. When things get difficult, what strategies will you use to stay on the path toward making your resolution a reality?
If you start working toward a goal without any type of plan in place, you may quickly find yourself giving up when faced with any sort of obstacle, setback, or resistance. For example, if your goal is to run three times per week, what will you do if you’ve missed four days in a row, and how will you proceed if you need to take time off for an illness or injury?
You can start by writing down your goal, making a list of things you might do to achieve that goal, and noting any obstacles that might stand in your way. By knowing exactly what you want to accomplish and the difficulties you might face, you’ll be better prepared to stick to your resolution and overcome anything that might sidetrack you.
Taking on too much too quickly is a common reason why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. Starting an unsustainably restrictive diet, overdoing it at the gym, or radically altering your normal behavior are surefire ways to derail your plans. Instead, focus on taking tiny steps that will ultimately help you reach your larger goal.
Small Steps Lead to Success
While it may seem like a slow start, these small incremental changes make it easier to stick to your new healthy habits and increase the likelihood of long-term success.7
Another strategy for keeping your New Year’s resolution is to not make the exact same resolution year after year. If people think they can do it, they probably can, but if they’ve already tried and failed, their self-belief will be low.
If you do choose to reach for the same goals you’ve tried for in the past, spend some time evaluating your previous results. Which strategies were the most effective? Which were the least effective? What has prevented you from keeping your resolution in past years?
Consider altering your resolution slightly to make it more feasible. By changing your approach, you will be more likely to see real results this year.
Those unhealthy or undesired habits that you are trying to change probably took years to develop, so how can you expect to change them in just a matter of days, weeks, or months? Be patient with yourself. Understand that working toward your resolution is a process. Even if you make a misstep or two, you can restart and continue on your journey towards your goal.
It may take longer than you would like to achieve your goals, but remember that this is not a race to the finish. Once you have made the commitment to changing a behavior, it may be something that you continue to work on for the rest of your life.
Yes, you’ve probably heard this advice a million times, but that is because the buddy system actually works. Having a solid support system can help you stay motivated and accountable. Camaraderie makes sticking to your resolution more fun, too. So, ideally, find a like-minded pal or loved one to join you in your goal. This works particularly well with fitness! Working out with a friend is great for accountability. When there’s days they can’t join you at NRG 4 Life though, remind yourself that you can still go!
Explain what your goals are to your close friends or family and ask them to help you achieve your objectives. Better yet, enlist the help of others by joining a group that shares your goal.
During the first days of a New Year’s resolution, you will probably feel confident and highly motivated to reach your goal. Because you haven’t really faced any discomfort or temptation associated with changing your behavior, making this change might seem all too easy.
After dealing with the reality of dragging yourself to the gym at 6 a.m. or gritting your teeth through headaches brought on by nicotine withdrawal, your motivation to keep your New Year’s resolution may start to dwindle.
When you face such moments, remind yourself exactly why you are doing this. Think about (or write a list to keep handy) what do you have to gain by achieving your goal. Finding sources of inspiration can keep you going when times get tough.
By March, many people have lost that initial spark of motivation that they had in January. Keep that inspiration alive by continuing to work on your goals, even after facing setbacks. If your current approach is not working, reevaluate your strategies, and develop a new plan. Being flexible with your plan—and even your end goal—will help you be successful.
Keep a Resolution Journal
Consider keeping a resolution journal, where you can write about your successes and struggles. Write down the reasons why you are working toward your goal so that you can refer to them during times when you feel uninspired and unmotivated. Think about what is causing you to falter (such as stress from work or home life) and how to cope effectively.
By sticking with it and working on your goal all year long, you can be one of the few able to say that you really did keep your New Year’s resolution—and if you’re writing down your progress and strategies, you’ll have ready proof of your efforts if you’re ever feeling like giving up.
Encountering a setback is one of the most common reasons why people give up on their New Year’s resolutions. If you suddenly relapse into a bad habit, don’t view it as a failure. The path toward your goal is not always a straight one, and there will often be challenges along the way. Instead, view relapses as learning opportunities.
If you are keeping a resolution journal, write down important information about when the relapse occurred, what might have triggered it, and what you might do differently next time. By understanding the challenges you face, you will be better prepared to deal with them in the future.