Successful Strategies to Meet Your Goals and Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
Lose 30 pounds. Save $500 a month. Wake up an hour earlier. Start a business. Research has shown that about half of all adults make New Year’s resolutions. However, less than 10% of them will manage to keep them for more than a few months. Resolutions usually come in the form of lifestyle changes and changing behavior that has become routine and habitual can be hard to do. So, what is the secret that successful people do to make their resolutions stick?
First off, successful people are not dictated by a calendar—meaning, the calendar says the Holidays are over and it’s January 1st—time to get serious. But January 1st may not be the best time to commit to lifestyle changes. Why? Because the best time to start is when you’re ready. For some people that will be January 1st, but there’s nothing magical about that day, just like there’s nothing magical about Mondays, which is another popular day to start making changes in your life.
The important thing isn’t the day on which you start, but that your goal is internally motivated. So, what does this mean? Say your goal is to lose 30 pounds. If the reason for that is to look good at your upcoming high school reunion, that’s an example of external motivation. You anticipate other people regarding you in a positive way. On the other hand, if your reason to lose 30 pounds is to feel more vibrant, or to reduce your health risks such as blood pressure and cholesterol, that is an internally motivated goal. It’s for yourself, regardless of what other people think.
Research has shown that externally motivated goals deplete your energy. They feel like hard work. On the other hand, when your goal is internally motivated, you boost your energy and you’re even driven to accomplish more. So, when your goal is to improve your health, rather than to be admired for your looks, you will be naturally inclined to continue for a longer period of time.
Another secret that successful people do to make their resolutions stick is to start small. Now it’s okay to dream big, but you want to start small. Say that your goal is to run a marathon, but you haven’t run a mile since high school gym. The advice here would not be to start off running 10 miles the first day, but instead walk a mile. As the old Chinese adage goes “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” When you’re looking at a million steps, or running a marathon, success seems so far off. Setting smaller and intermediate goals does help, but it helps even more if you use this simple mind trick—at the beginning of your training, focus on how much you’ve accomplished, not on how much is left to do.
Using the goal of running a marathon as an example, each increment counts for more and keeps you motivated. Let’s say today you run a half a mile, but it left you exhausted. It’s hard to imagine what running 26 miles could feel like! Could you realistically do that? You can realistically expect to run a whole mile within a few days. When you do accomplish that, you’ve doubled your achievement over the first half mile. That’s certainly something to celebrate, and you look forward to accomplishing more.
This works for lots of situations. Say you need to get rid of a house full of clutter. Cleaning out one drawer may seem like a drop in the bucket. If you set your goal to do like one or two drawers and focus on the pile of discards that result from your efforts, you’ll feel better already. Look around and you go “Well, I filled up a whole trash bag. That didn’t take long. I can do that. I can do that again tomorrow.” So, to recap, not only is it good to start small, but also focus on your early accomplishments rather than on the long road ahead.
A third secret is that your goals should be SMART—that’s an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981, and stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Let’s briefly look at each one:
Specific—Your goal should be absolutely clear. Have a concrete goal such as “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next month” rather than something vague such as “I want to lose weight.”
Measurable—This one is more obvious when it comes to weight loss or running, as mentioned above, but it’s also important if you’re trying to cut back on something as well. Say you want to stop biting your nails. Take photos of your nails over time so you can track your progress in how your nails grow back out. You can also log progress into a journal or make notes on your phone or in an app specifically designed to track behaviors.
Achievable—As previously mentioned, start small. Don’t say “I want to save enough money to retire when I’m 40” (that’s ok for dreaming big), but it would be more realistic to say, “I will save an extra $100 a month.”
Relevant—Again, I touched on this earlier. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons?
Time-bound—Like “achievable,” the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself enough time to do it with lots of smaller intermediate goals set up along the way. Focus on the small wins so you can continue to make gradual progress. Remember—if you’re building a habit, you are planning for the next 5-10 years, not the next few months.
The last secret I’ll mention is to build a support network. Human beings are naturally social creatures. However, many of us have lost that interaction due to social media. If you want to be successful, get help! Build a network of people who will support your goals. Tell close friends and family members about what you’re doing and ask them to hold you accountable. And it works both ways—you could help out a friend by holding them accountable and providing support. Better yet, get several people together and form an accountability group, all helping each other achieve your goals.
Just because most resolutions fail doesn’t mean your resolutions can’t last. If you’re prepared for the reality of the challenge and you’re willing to put in the hard work to make it happen, you can make your resolutions stick this year. As we head into a brand-new year, make sure to build in some reflection time to not only think about what you want to change, but what you’re grateful for. Then, intentionally frame resolutions in a way that sets you up for sustainable success. Your future self will thank you.
If you’d like to learn more about goal setting and achieving success to keep your resolutions, call my office at (302)-691-9055 and set up a free 20-minute consultation.