Happy New Year! It’s that time of year again. The time of year where we stop to reflect and identify the areas we would like to improve over the next 12 months and convince ourselves that this is the year we will finally get it together. In January we make good on our promises to eat more vegetables, go to the gym, and save half our paycheck, only to find ourselves in March sitting on the couch, binge watching Netflix, while eating that premium ice cream that costs $8.99 a pint (hey, at least it’s organic and gluten-free, right?).
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Only about 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions actually reach them. This is not to say that setting resolutions or goals is a useless activity. On the contrary, people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to reach their goals than individuals who skip the whole resolution business altogether. Unfortunately, the way we typically approach resolution setting often sets us up for failure before we even begin. But don’t worry! A few small changes to how you tackle your resolutions can help ensure you are among that successful 8% come December 31st, 2017.
Focus on the how, not the what. When setting goals we tend to devote plenty of time deciding on what we want to achieve and spend little time thinking about how we will achieve it. Reaching a goal takes concentrated effort. Not thinking about how you plan on reaching that goal is like heading on a cross-country road trip that’s supposed to end in Miami without a map (or your Google Maps app). You will probably see some interesting sites, but instead of southern Florida you may end up in Wildwood, Minnesota, which I’m sure is beautiful but requires a vastly different wardrobe that you didn’t pack. Are you going to lose weight by joining a running club or cutting out your nightly cookie? Does saving money mean making coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks every morning or eating out less often? By thinking of the actions you need to take to reach your goals, you are more likely to take steps that will move you in the direction you wish to go instead of just moving you around.
Set mini-goals. New Year’s resolutions tend to be large, somewhat ambiguous goals that will take an extended period of time to achieve. Focusing on an endpoint that is far away in both time and effort can make us feel overwhelmed. It also gives us the false assumption that we have plenty of time to do the necessary work so can put off starting until a later date. Setting smaller weekly goals can help us stay motivated and make sure we keep ourselves on track. Establish one day as your goal-setting day. On that day, think about the upcoming week and decide what you will achieve to move yourself closer to your resolution. Write those goals down somewhere you will see them every day so you don’t lose sight of the target.
Get S.M.A.R.T. about goal setting. When setting goals it’s important to make them SMART. And no, I don’t mean smart as in it’s a wise decision to contribute to your retirement account every month (although that is an intelligent thing to do). S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Let’s explore these components one at a time:
Set Yourself Up for Success. We humans have notoriously terrible willpower. So stop telling yourself you just need to have more self-control. Instead, create environments and situations that set you up for success. Don’t keep junk food in your house. Set up an automatic deposit into your savings or IRA account. One creative woman even told me she drops her house keys off at the gym in the morning to ensure she makes it there after work. A little extreme? Maybe. Completely genius? Absolutely! Find ways to manipulate your environment so that acting on your goals requires as little dependence on that unreliable self-control as possible.
Happy 2017! Here’s to your most successful year yet.
Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez, MPH, CHES