It’s that time of year again. Men and women of all ages and all walks of life will soon be meeting at their local Starbucks to sip on lattes and discuss their New Year’s resolutions. “This year is going to be different,” they will say. “This year, I’m going to actually follow through on my commitments to a better life…I’m motivated…I’m ready…I got this.” But soon all the passion and excitement of a fresh start will give way to the stress and chaos of life and most people will slowly see their New Year’s resolutions fade into the abyss of good intentions. The research here is strong: while around 45% of people set New Year’s resolutions, only 8% are successful in meeting their goals. The good news is that even though the odds are stacked against you, you CAN set goals for the new year that will make it much more likely that you follow through. Here’s how:
- Keep it Simple and Specific: Most people come up with a list of resolutions that would constitute a complete shift of their lifestyle. “I’m going to start working out, become a vegetarian, start saving more, quit yelling at my kids, get a new job, and volunteer at the food pantry…I’m motivated…I’m ready…I got this.” Yeah, not so much. You just set yourself up for failure. Individuals who are successful at meeting their resolutions focus on one or two goals that are very specific. “I’m going to lose weight,” is a nondescript goal that will almost always end in failure. “I’m going to lose 10 pounds in 90 days” is a specific simple goal that is achievable and measurable.
- Go all in: For years, behavioral scientists have encouraged people to “start small” and take “mini-steps” forward toward their goals. But this approach usually ends in disillusionment because it takes so long for people to see the byproducts of their efforts. For instance, if you decide that you want to run a marathon but only train two times a week it is going to take a long time for you to run that race. Most people in that situation just quit and never follow through. But individuals who go all in and commit to training 6 days a week have a much greater chance of actually finishing the race. If you want to realize your New Year’s resolutions this year, go all in and completely commit to pursing you goals with intensity.
- Plan for success: One of the easiest ways to ensure you achieve your goals is to use what I call “trigger plans,” which specify exactly what action you’re going to do and when. The basic idea here is that you set a clear, concrete trigger: “when I wake up and walk into the kitchen…” followed by an action that you’ll take after the trigger: “I will kiss my wife and tell her I love her.” Results from almost 100 studies find that people who make these trigger plans are significantly more likely to reach their goals.
- Think your way to Success: If there is one principle that I have found most helpful in encouraging people to follow through with their goals it is this: “Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings drive behavior.” If you are ever going to be successful in meeting your New Year’s resolutions, it is vital that you learn to replace those old negative thoughts about your life with new thoughts about your ability to follow through. “My goal this year is to pass that certification test for work … but I’ve failed it 3 times already… we’ll see” should be replaced with “I’m going to create a clear specific plan for my certification test and I will put in the time required to pass it.” Lasting behavior change will only come from the confidence that is built by new positive healthy thinking. YOU’VE GOT THIS!