Only 8 percent of individuals typically keep their New Year’s resolutions throughout the year, and 80 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions are already off track by the first week of February. If we begin to fail, we may experience anxiety, decreased self-esteem, and frustration, especially when we have invested money into goals such as a gym membership or a class. Loved ones and internet articles may suggest lots of suggestions for how to stick to your resolutions. We have compiled the most useful of these techniques from the perspective of therapists who often work to motivate clients to achieve their goals.
- Make resolutions you think you can keep. By making your resolutions more realistic, there is a greater chance that you will keep them. If you wish to get into running after years of inactivity, do not choose to sign up for a marathon; instead choose a shorter run, or join a running group and commit yourself to attendance a reasonable number of times per week based on your schedule.
- Change one behavior at a time. Thinking you need to overhaul your lifestyle completely can be a daunting task. Instead focus on one behavior you wish to improve. If you improve this behavior by July, you can always focus on a new goal you can commit your focus to at that time.
- Share your experiences with family and friends. You may want to join a support group to help you reach your goals, as it can be helpful to share successes and frustrations with others working toward the same goal. If you share your goals with as many people as you can, they cannot only hold you accountable but rejoice with you in your successes. Some find it useful to have an “accountability partner” that is working on either the same or different goal as them.
- Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. If you slip up, do not throw in the towel and give up on your goals. Everyone has ups and downs when they are working toward a lifestyle change. Focus on the upward trend of your self-improvement, as it has been shown that self-punishment is not an effective technique in working toward self-improvement.
- Break your goal into smaller pieces. Outline small goals that can be reached in 30-90 days and include only those items that will help you reach your larger overall goal. Others may choose other time frames such as a 17-week goal period, which can be cycled through three times throughout the year.
- Don’t necessarily call it a New Year’s resolution. Often we fall into the trap of needing to initiate a goal exactly on January 1st. If you need time to get organized after the busy holiday season, that is fine if it means you can whole-heartedly commit to goals or lifestyle changes later in the month. Pick a date on January 1st that you will commit to and then really stick to starting on that date. It may be easier to go to the gym the first time when you are not still digesting all of that holiday food.
- Write your goals down. Research demonstrates that writing down goals, dreams and aspirations increases the odds of us achieving them. Reflecting on your goals every day by putting pen to paper and recording successes and missteps can also improve your adherence to your new routine.
Reflect on mistakes. If you have a misstep, instead of beating yourself up try to reflect on the reason for your slip to learn something about yourself and improve your behavior for the future. Was it harder to control your food intake at an all-you-can eat buffet? Maybe in the future promise yourself to stick to one plate of food, or not allow yourself dessert.
- Focus on intentions, not resolutions. Determine your WHY for your resolutions, and then determine how you will accomplish them by outlining tools, strategies, and resources you need to make them happen. Some people may want to lose 20 pounds to look better in a swimsuit, while others may want to feel more active and stronger to pick up their kids. Find your drive and focus on that instead of numbers on the scale.
- Engage in the enjoyable aspects of an unhealthy behavior without the behavior itself. For example, if you enjoy taking a break while having a smoke, take the break and enjoy it, but find healthier ways to do so. Take a walk around the block with a co-worker or call your spouse to hear about their day.
Reward yourself when you hit smaller goals. You do not need to wait until you lose fifty pounds to give yourself a pat on the back and consider yourself a success. Reward yourself with a massage or another enjoyable self-care activity when you make measurable progress toward your goal.
- Seek professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues that may be getting in the way.