About half of us make New Year’s resolutions but only 8 percent of us successfully achieve them, according to statisticbrain.com. If we’re going to make resolutions every year, let’s learn how to increase our success rate.
Think of setting resolutions as a way to jump start the positive changes you want to make toward meaningful change in your life. Many Americans’ favorite resolutions in 2015 focused on health. Losing weight, staying fit and quitting smoking are perennial favorites.
Here are some tips from the experts to increase your chances for success:
1. Make a resolution that pleases YOU. Try to meet someone else’s expectations and you will surely fail. The New Year is a good time to reflect on past behavior and assess if changes are indicated. Psychologists tell us the extent of the change is not as important as recognizing that we need lifestyle changes. Take time to focus on what’s best and what’s realistic for you.
2. Focus on one resolution at a time. Don’t choose resolutions where there’s a good chance of failure or at which you’ve failed in the past. Pick one resolution at which you can succeed and that will provide the biggest benefits – however YOU define it. To be successful, be sure it’s something on which you sincerely and passionately want to spend your time and effort.
3. Think in terms of major, overarching goals when planning your resolutions, such as being debt-free, getting healthy or finding a better job.
4. Avoid making absolute resolutions such as “I’ll never eat sugar again.” Be realistic and opt for “I’ll reduce sugar by 90 percent.”
5. Break your big resolution into small, achievable steps. Large resolutions usually require multiple behavior or lifestyle changes. Try spreading them throughout the year. For example, finding a better job may require you to update your resume, spend an hour a day looking at want ads or job sites, take a certification course or go back to school. Accomplishing all that can take months or years.
6. Establish a specific timeline for each smaller goal, so you’ll know what to do first. Be realistic in how long each step will take. For example, a resolution to lose 20 pounds could be broken into chewable portions:
- Jan. – walk 30 min./day, 6 days/wk.
- Feb. – increase fruit/veggie consumption to 5 per/day
- March – add 15 min. of strength training 3 days/wk.
- April – reduce soft drinks to 2 per/wk.
- May – increase physical activity to 6 hrs./wk.
This slow, steady work on smaller goals has a better chance of success. It will bolster your confidence and motivation to keep going toward the overarching resolution of losing 20 pounds.
7. Write down your resolutions. This increases your chances of success 10 fold. On your list, include the small steps or goals that combine to create the framework that helps you achieve the big resolution. Post the list where you’ll see it every day.
Ask for support
8. Share your intent to make behavior changes with family and close friends.
9. Join a support group related to your resolution. Being with people who are working toward the same goal provides sympathy for your struggles and appreciation of your successes. Supportive people can reduce the stress of working toward behavior change.
10. Be sympathetic with yourself. Perfection is a fool’s goal. Understand and accept that missteps are completely normal. Use them to renew your commitment to the resolution.
11. Send your support network an update on your progress. Bask in their encouragement and use it to renew your will to succeed. Social approval is a highly effective way to change behavior.
12. Maximize your willpower. Willpower is weakest when you’re stressed, hungry, upset or tired. Get away from a tempting situation when you know your resistance is low. The willpower needed to practice self-restraint actually reduces blood glucose levels and makes it harder to maintain your willpower. Our brains rely on glucose for energy. Keep your body’s fuel sources at a steady supply with good nutrition. Artificially sweetened drinks don’t provide the energy jolt your brain is craving.
13. When you lose willpower, remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished so far. Think of the compliments you’ve received; recall situations where you had willpower. Feelings of personal power are tied closely to our ability to exert willpower.
14. Post a photo on the fridge of you doing the positive behavior you want to achieve – in your skinny jeans, eating a salad or hiking with friends. Visual cues enhance willpower.
15. Write down how you will overcome the temptations to ignore your resolutions. What will you do when a colleague brings doughnuts to work and you skipped breakfast? How will you avoid the urge to spend when your favorite shoes are on sale? What will you do when it’s raining and you can’t go on your 30-min., post-supper walk? Always have a “plan B” for your willpower.
16. Make a list of positive and negative outcomes for each resolution. For example, by cutting back your credit card spending you may:
Positive outcomes Negative outcomes
Avoid debt Miss shopping
Save for vacation Not wear the latest fashions
Reduce financial stress Feel “deprived”
Reward your successes
17. Celebrate the small, positive steps you make on the journey toward achieving your resolutions. Choose interim rewards that don’t contradict your goals. A new pair of walking shoes is a better weight-loss reward than a candy bar.
18. Track each small success in a journal, on Facebook or a calendar posted on the fridge. Short-term goals are easier to achieve and help keep you motivated. Don’t wait until all your credit cards are paid off; celebrate the fact that your overall debt is decreasing or you’ve paid off one card.
19. Be patient with your progress, no matter how slow. It takes three to eight weeks for a new activity to become a habit and six months for it to become part of your personality. As long as you are moving in the right direction, most of the time, you are successful.
20. Don’t despair or give up when you totally lose momentum. If you truly wish to accomplish your resolution, recommit to it for 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours. After 24 hours, chances are you will have the confidence to continue toward your goal.
Set yourself up for success
21. Keep temptations out of sight, out of mind. If junk food is the key to your weight problem, get nonhealthy foods and beverages out of your cupboards and resolve not to buy any more. Take fruit, nuts, yogurt or other healthy foods with you everywhere to avoid fast food stops. Pack a healthy lunch the night before so you’re not temped by a quick cheeseburger. A Cornell University study found that people who kept fresh fruit out on the counter weighed 13 pounds less than those who did not. The reverse is also true – those who kept sugary beverages on countertops were 26 pounds heavier.
22. Replace a bad habit with a better habit. Think about what purpose the negative habit provides. Plan ways to meet your needs in a positive way. For example, you’re spending too much time on Facebook, yet it relaxes you after work. Replace Facebook with 45 minutes of walking your dog. Walking and stopping to chat with neighbors replaces the stress reduction and socialization that Facebook provided.
23. Accept your setbacks as temporary and get back on track ASAP. Allow a splurge now and then. If the salad you planned for lunch morphs into three pieces of pizza, don’t give up on the rest of the day’s food. Have the salad for dinner or pack a healthy lunch for tomorrow to get yourself back on track as quickly as possible. Build in flexibility for the times when life intervenes or willpower wanes.
24. Avoid the two types of resolutions that invariably fail. Failure is certain if you cannot, or do not, seriously commit to change. Hoping something in your life will change is a far cry from committing to a realistic strategy to make it happen. The second certain failure is to attempt to fix everything.
Successful resolutions require sustained willpower and self-control. Trying to accomplish too much can be mentally and physically exhausting. Most of us already have full-time lives and full-time jobs. Trying to transform our behavior and lifestyle is full-time work on steroids. The result is exhaustion and loss of confidence caused by another set of failed resolutions.
25. Work on it every day. The amount of time, frequency, resources, talent and willpower that you put into achieving your resolution directly correlates to your level of success.