Strategies for New Year’s Resolution Success
Achieve your health goals this year!
By Ewa Futkowska
New Year’s Resolutions. There are few terms in the English language that can produce such a plethora of emotions: excitement, anxiety, fear, even guilt. Why does this combination of three little words hold so much power over us? Some of you still feel that fresh thrill of a new challenge each year the calendar turns a page on January 1st. The rest of us may have started out that way, but after a few failed attempts we’re now left with a big suitcase of resolution baggage that we carry around with us all year long. Every January, we dust off our suitcase, take a peek inside and proceed to passive-aggressively veg out with Netflix and a carton of ice-cream. Studies tell us the chance of actually following through on our resolutions falls somewhere around 8% (source: Statistic Brain). Despite this, a few brave souls take the leap of faith in hopes that this year will be different. For you, the resolution resilient, I offer the What, Why, Who, When and How Strategy for New Year’s Resolution success.
First and foremost, you cannot launch a strategy for success without first identifying what success means. What is it that you want to accomplish this year? Lose weight? Eat better? Stress less? Run your first 5K? Quit smoking (for the third time)? Drink less (in front of people)? Whatever it is, write it down. Clearly defined (and documented) goals are the blueprint for your success plan.
Many of you may already know your “what” and can run down your list of resolutions before finishing this sentence. That’s probably because you just pulled your list out of your resolution suitcase from 2016. If that’s true, I encourage you to consider ditching that dusty old list. Studies show that it’s much easier to follow through on goals when they are NEW (source: American Psychological Association). Does one big goal reappear on your list every year? Starting the year fresh with a few new (and maybe even easier to achieve) goals can help you channel the triumph of those battles into winning the war later on.
Some of you may not be as clear about your “What”. You know you want to make positive changes but are foggy as to what those changes are. If this sounds like you, take out a blank sheet of paper. I’m serious, do it now. Got it? Good. Fold your paper in half along the longer side. On the left, write out everything about your life as it is today. What do you do for work? How do you spend your free time? How do you feel physically? Mentally? What are your eating and exercise habits like? No detail is too small. On the right side of the page, write down everything you WANT your life to look like. What do you WANT to do with your day? How do you WANT to spend your free time? Now compare your lists. Chances are, your resolutions live in the inconsistencies.
One of the biggest reasons resolutions fail is that they simply cannot exist without willpower, and where there is a “will”, there is a “Why”. Before you set sail on your resolution journey, clearly define WHY you want to create change. Remember to be as authentic as possible about your reasons. Is the change something you truly want or is it something you think you should want? Do you WANT to quit smoking or do you think you SHOULD WANT to quit smoking? A clear and authentic “Why” will carry you through those dark days when you feel you have more in common with a sloth than your pilates instructor.
Once you’ve defined your “why”, you must nurture it daily. Willpower is much like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Try this on for size: Close your eyes. Envision yourself having already achieved your goal. Paint a picture in your mind. What does success look like to you? What are you wearing? What are you doing? Who else is in the room with you? What does the space look and smell like? Most importantly, what does success FEEL like? Hold on to that feeling and focus on it for however long you can. Dedicate ten minutes each day to this exercise. Not only will it help you build your willpower muscles, much like physical exercise, it will only get easier with time.
Studies show that resolutions have a higher rate of success when made public (source: Psychology Today). Sharing your goals with friends and family creates a sense of accountability, which is a fancy way of saying, “motivation through fear of embarrassment”. You don’t want to seem like a failure for not following through, so you stick to it (for as long as possible). To take this one step further, try adding a dash of positive reinforcement mixed with a splash of economics. Think of each one of your resolutions as a project, spearheaded and executed by Company You. As the CEO of Company You, you have elected a Board of Directors. Each member of the board is an expert in his/her field (aka “your goals”). Elect members of your board (be it friends or others you admire and have a connection with) who have achieved some level of success in the areas of life you want to create change in. Meet with your board once a month. Show your progress, share ideas, discuss challenges, create goals, set benchmarks and celebrate successes.
Another reason we don’t follow through on resolutions is that we get overzealous and try to do everything at once. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when approaching your resolutions as a “new you” idea. Despite what magazine covers will have you believe, expecting to create a new you overnight is a ridiculous concept. Instead, try to think of resolutions like layers on a cake—build one layer at a time. What is ONE area of your life you can improve right now? What are a few things you can do TODAY that will help you create change in that area? How can you build upon that goal over the weeks, months and year ahead? If your goal is to work out five days a week, start with just one day per week and increase that number in increments that are comfortable for YOU. Remember to respect where you are. It’s not about how fast you get there, it’s getting there that counts.
Now that you have a strategy, let’s explore some tools to help get you to the finish. First off, it’s not news that positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool. Set benchmarks for yourself and make sure to celebrate the accomplishment of each win along the way. Enter benchmarks into your phone’s calendar (or non-tech equivalent) and write down exactly how you plan to reward yourself when you get there.
Second, keep a success journal. Take ten minutes at the end of EACH day to write down anything and everything that helped get you a little closer to your goal. At the end of the week, read back and reflect on your successes. You’ll be surprised at how uplifting this exercise can be, especially on days when you feel like you’ve fallen off the wagon. Remember: success breeds success, and acknowledging where you are can help get you to where you’re going.
Third, automate your life. Research shows a phenomenon called “decision fatigue” can play a role in how likely we are to keep resolutions (source: Tierney). The more decisions we have to make throughout our day (from what sales strategy to implement at the office, to what to make for dinner that night), the more depleted our willpower can get as the day wears on. Automating your life by creating lists, schedules, and preplanning events wherever possible can help eliminate some of that fatigue potential. Don’t like cooking but want to eat better? Try meal planning on Sunday night for the whole week. Want to make it to the gym more often? Pack a backup gym bag and leaving it at the office at all times.
Finally, remember to cut yourself some slack. The biggest reason some goals end up back in our resolution suitcase is our tendency to throw in the towel as soon as we hit a roadblock. It’s inevitable that life will throw you for a loop now and again. We are only human, and a hiccup does not equal failure. Lost ten pounds only to have gained five? No problem! Simply pick up where you left off and don’t sweat it!