Making a New Year’s Resolution is a tradition, and certainly not a bad one at its core. The New Year provides a fresh start, so it’s the ideal time to set new goals for yourself. But for many people, this can be a stressful process and ultimately a discouraging one when they fail to meet a goal. If you’ve tried (and failed) to stick to your New Year’s Resolutions in the past, you might think you just don’t have what it takes to accomplish these life improvements, but that might not be the case.
Assuming you have chosen a realistic goal you have control over, the biggest secret to making, and keeping, a New Year’s Resolution doesn’t rely solely on an individual’s willpower, but how the individual makes the resolution in the first place. To illustrate exactly what I mean by that, I’m going to take you through five steps you can take to ‘fix’ almost any New Year’s Resolution and set yourself up for success. Since one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 is to lose weight, I will use this as the example.
1. “I want to lose weight.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about New Year’s Resolutions is that they are wishes and desires, something you whisper before tossing a coin in a well. A goal, however, requires a plan of action. What will you do to lose weight? Get more exercise? Eat a more balanced diet? To make a good goal, you have to start with the task you want to achieve, not the outcome you want to have.
2. “I want to lose weight by exercising more often and eating a more balanced diet.”
This is already better than what you started with, but there is still a big problem. While losing weight does require a variety of different things (diet and exercise, for example), you need to make your goal specific and concrete if you want to realistically achieve it. You can certainly make more than one New Year’s Resolution, but since you are focusing on an individual one right now, you need to focus on one thing at a time. So what do you want to focus on for this? Will your New Year’s Resolution be about exercising or dieting?
3. “I want to lose weight by exercising more often.“
Now that you have chosen the activity you will use to achieve your goal, you have to refine it. One trick to refining something like this is to visualize it in your own mind: what does your ‘exercising’ look like? Are you at a gym? Are you going for a run around the neighborhood? Are you skiing down Mt. Everest? Once you have a specific image in mind, take note of what you are doing, and adjust your goal accordingly.
4. “I want to lose weight by going to the gym more often.”
Now you’re talking! This is a much clearer goal than where you started, but it still has some major issues. For one thing, it leaves you no way to gauge an end point, and therefore no set time to reward yourself for your efforts. At what point have you achieved ‘more’? Phrased like it currently is, you can technically just exercise at the gym a single second more than you already do, and you will have satisfied the requirements of your plan. In order to make this goal more useful, you need to set some exact parameters for it.
5. “I want to lose weight by going to the gym three times a week instead of once a week like I do now.”
See how much clearer that is! Now that you have made it clear exactly what you want to do, you can add it to your schedule accordingly. The only remaining issue is that your goal – losing weight – doesn’t really have a clear end point. How can you know if you’ve succeeded when the definition of success isn’t even there? Just as with the previous step, a vague phrasing like this means that you’ve technically reached your goal after losing just one pound. In addition to specifying a desired result, you want to give yourself a concrete deadline to reach that result – otherwise you have no way of knowing when you’ve succeeded (and when to reward yourself accordingly!) Make sure to talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure what weight loss goals are healthy and realistic for you.
Revised Resolution: “I want to lose 15 pounds by the end of March by going to the gym three times a week instead of once a week like I do now.”
With a specific goal and method of achieving it, you will likely find it much easier to pursue your goal of losing weight in the coming months. You can even break up the time period into smaller checkpoints, mini-goals to reach and reward yourself for throughout the process.
And remember, a goal is just that: a goal. As the American Psychological Association reminds us, no one is perfect, and everyone can benefit from some extra support. If you end up going to the gym only twice a week at the start of February, don’t give up. If you don’t reach the weight you were aiming for by March 31st, don’t beat yourself up about it. Chances are that you still made some great progress and can continue to do so throughout the year. Finally, make sure not to do this alone! The best part about making a New Year’s Resolution is that everyone is doing it, so you have the perfect excuse to grab a friend and ask this lucky person to be your work-out buddy. When you have someone to share your struggles and triumphs with, the process is almost always easier to get through.