How to make your New Year’s resolutions last
As we start another year, like clockwork, all the resolution stories start to appear.
Make 2021 your year! Set your goals! Get the job! Live your dreams! Lose weight!
And yet, as the economics of gym memberships illustrate, most people honor New Year’s resolutions for a short time. Tara Parker-Pope wrote in her New York Times column that a third are ditched by the end of January. Four out of five people simply give their resolutions up.
Good habits, especially ones drastically different from typical lifestyles, are hard to get started and even harder to keep. Research shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days for a habit to become automatic.
Causes of failure include not being specific enough, setting unreasonable goals and expectations, no accountability, and negative framing. For example, vaguely resolving to “exercise more” or “lose weight” doesn’t provide enough motivation throughout the year. It lacks markers of progress and success, such as monthly weight goals. Having specific markers and bite-sized goals discourages walking away from attainable achievements.
It’s the a new year all right, but it’s the same you.
Does that mean we shouldn’t even bother thinking big? Not at all. In fact, I’m a fan of setting big goals for yourself and saying them out loud. Like so many of you, I stand in awe of people who state audacious goals then go about accomplishing them.
I love the new year for the fact that it inspires us to do something we have the power to do all year long. At any time. Even on a random Wednesday in August.
I would argue our problem isn’t that we shouldn’t think big, but that we consider ourselves too small of a player in the quest for our own goals. We set all-or-nothing New Year’s resolutions that we can’t possibly keep, and frankly don’t expect ourselves to. Most resolutions are general, vague, and unrealistic. We don’t really believe we can hit them because we’re not committed to our own locus of control.
Use the buddy system.
Social support can be the difference between sticking to your resolution for a couple weeks versus a couple of years. “The research-informed explanation is that virtually anybody can get through a couple weeks with a neutral or even toxic environment, but that begins to weigh heavily,” Norcross told Time. Having a friend or family member to motivate you and hold you accountable can help you avoid becoming a statistic in 2020.
Don’t fret the occasional slip-up.
Norcross’ study found that 53 percent of those who kept their New Year’s resolutions for two years experienced at least one slip-up, and the average number of slips was 14. But what distinguished the people who managed to maintain their resolutions from the ones who didn’t was that they plowed on. “Early slips do not predict failure,” Norcross told Time in 2018. “In fact, many ultimately successful resolvers report—even as they experience them—that the early slips strengthen their resolutions.”
When making resolutions, people often frame them using negative language. “Stop wasting money” isn’t as effective as “stick to the budget.” Thinking about avoiding behaviors inevitably leads to thinking of said behaviors. Frame resolutions positively; let action-oriented thoughts lead to the desired action.
Though all lifestyle changes come with pushback and negative self-talk, tiny changes and adjusting your daily life can minimize this mental resistance. Failure is natural and not to be discouraged but learned from. Identify patterns of stopping and barriers that cause discomfort, preemptively plan to face that discomfort, and continue pushing forward towards your goal.
We need to create big ideas, and also value our own ability to achieve them. We need to shed cynicism for a belief in own sense of agency. A good start is by setting resolutions, or any other goals, that are tangible, actionable, and possible. Here’s how:
- Set goals that matter to you, and that you can put energy around. Don’t make them just because it’s what you do in January. Be ready to commit.
- Every resolution should have a plan to accomplish it. Don’t just vow to change your career, determine what steps you’ll need to take.
- Rather than making all-or-nothing resolutions, build in milestones. For example, instead of attempting to hit the gym every day, commit to exercising 2-3 times a week and gradually increasing.
- Believe in your own ability to change. Consider that every day, people in the worst of circumstances — whose lives have been wrecked by factors like addiction or trauma –decide to change their lives and do. If they can; you can. Whatever has happened in the past has no impact on what you can do with your future. None.