Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution only to give up on it by February? At the start of each year, many people resolve to establish healthier habits, create a better work-life balance, declutter their homes, achieve financial milestones, or master a new hobby. The goals are varied, but one thing remains constant – to actually stick to their resolutions and achieve their goals they need a clear vision, actionable steps and accountability.
Why we give up
A study conducted by Edith Cowan University found that over half of us make the same resolutions year after year, and that two thirds of people give up on their resolutions in the first month. In fact, a mere 8% of people will see their resolution through for the entire year.
One of the most common pitfalls is that the goals are too vague – vowing to ‘eat better’, ‘save money’ or ‘get in shape’ leaves a lot of room for interpretation. When we don’t have a clear vision about what achieving that goal really looks and feels like, or if we’re unsure of how to measure our progress, it can be easy to get off track.
Common excuses for giving up on a New Year’s resolution include a lack of time, money or other resources. Oftentimes, it’s simply a loss of motivation. Fortunately, these obstacles can all be avoided through crafting a realistic, measurable resolution and backing it up with a step-by-step plan for achieving it.
Making resolutions that work
If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution in the past and gone off track, it might be time to take a fresh approach. Here are nine strategies you can use to create a realistic, achievable New Year’s resolution and an easy-to-follow plan for keeping it:
1. First, write it down
Writing down your goal transforms it from a thought in your head to something tangible in the world outside of you, which is the first step in keeping yourself accountable. By writing your goal down, you’re also helping yourself to clearly define what you’d like to achieve. The pen-on-paper approach also leaves little room for ‘reinterpreting’ your goal when motivation lags – you’ll know without a doubt that your intent was to go to the gym four days a week, not one. And finally, by writing the goal on a sticky note or in your diary, it can serve as a regular visual reminder of what you’re working towards.
2. Keep it positive
One large-scale study found that approach-focused goals had a higher success rate (58.9%) compared to avoidance-related goals (47.1%). What does this mean? Instead of focusing on what not to do, decide what thoughts and behaviours you will engage in. For example, instead of saying ‘I won’t let the dirty dishes pile up in the sink’ you might say, ‘I will put the dishes in the dishwasher after each meal’.
3. Make resolutions the SMART way
When you are considering your New Year’s resolution, follow the SMART framework for goal setting. Ensure that your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. So instead of resolving to ‘Get better at playing the piano’, you might rework your goal to say, ‘Take piano lessons once a week for the next six months so I can play my sister’s favourite song at her wedding’.
4. Break it down
Short, mid and long-term goals are all important. The start of a new year is a great time to dream big! But when goals feel too big or too far off, they can seem out of reach and it can be hard to feel like you’re making any progress towards them. You can overcome this by having regular milestones to work towards.
Let’s say you want to save $5,000 for a holiday at the end of the year. If you are to break that down, it means saving around $400 a month or $100 a week. By focusing on the ‘micro-step’ of saving $100 a week, you’ll have an easier time staying on track and will eventually achieve your end goal. Big, long-term goals work best when you break them down into small, easily-achievable weekly benchmarks.
5. Make a detailed plan
After you write down your goal, get specific about how you are going to get there. Let’s say you’ve decided to save $100 a week. How will you actually accomplish this? Will you put a set amount of money straight into a savings account on payday? Do you need to reexamine your budget and cut back on optional expenses? Will you need to generate extra income? What will you change about your current way of doing things to make that savings goal possible?
6. Measure and track your progress
Just as writing down your goal is important, so is recording your progress. Draw a graph, create a spreadsheet, write a weekly journal entry, or log the goal into your Hello Coach Life Tracker™ app. By making note of where you are moving forward or going astray, you’re helping to hold yourself accountable. You’ll also be able to reflect on what recent factors may be affecting your progress, allowing you to readjust your approach as needed.
7. Stay the course by reconnecting with your ‘why’
From time to time, you may catch yourself getting off-track. Maybe you stop going to the gym, overspend, or binge-watch a TV series instead of working on your novel. When you notice yourself veering away from your resolution, it might be time to reconnect with what motivated your goal to begin with. Take a moment to pause and reflect: Why is this goal important to me? How will reaching my goal impact my life? How will sticking to my resolution and actually achieving it make me feel?
Sometimes we need to get back into our imaginations and reconnect with the feelings that sparked the creation of the goal. This might mean listening to music, watching an inspirational movie, or having a conversation with a friend – whatever helps to evoke the emotions around where your dream first began. When you’ve reconnected with your ‘why’ and the emotion behind it, it’s infinitely easier to maintain motivation and get back on track.
If you find yourself repeatedly veering off course, check in with yourself: is this a goal you truly want to achieve? Is the outcome something that would make you feel better, healthier or happier in some way? If the goal is rooted in something you feel you should do rather than something you genuinely care about, you might want to rethink if it is really the best goal for you.
8. Build your cheer squad
When the going gets tough, it helps to have a personal cheerleader in your corner who can give you encouragement and remind you of why you are worthy of reaching your goal. Studies have shown that telling someone you look up to about your goal increases your commitment to achieving it. So to improve your odds of success, communicate your New Year’s resolution with family members, friends or a coach who you know will support you, and plan regular check-ins to update them on your progress.
At the same time, be very selective about which people you share with. Does the other person want you to be successful? Or does your goal conflict with their own interests in some way? Working against self-sabotage is hard enough, so avoid sharing your goal with anyone who would be less than overjoyed to see you making progress.
9. Celebrate your success!
Accountability is just as much about tracking your progress and appreciating where things went right as it is about the reverse. Whether it’s a small milestone or the big finish line, take a moment to recognise your wins. Celebrating your success helps you to build confidence and show yourself appreciation for your hard work and perseverance. This may be just the boost you need to make it through your current goal – and even get started on the next one.
Today’s action steps
Expand on your New Year’s resolution until it fits into the SMART framework. Start by writing down the general idea of your goal, then fill out the SMART parameters. For example, if your goal is to ‘lose weight’ your might write out the following:
Specific – I’m going to take 10,000 steps a day and bring healthy, homemade lunches to work to help me lose 8 kilos.
Measurable (How will you know if you’re on track?)- I’ll see a change on the scale, I’ll feel better physically and I’ll be able to fit into my favourite pair of jeans again.
Achievable – Yes. I’ve been that weight before and will not feel hungry or deprived by the changes I am making to my diet. I’m aiming for a reasonable weight loss rate of 0.5 kilos per week.
Relevant (your ‘why’) – I’m ready to feel better and have more energy. I want to play outside with my kids on the weekend and not feel exhausted.
Time-bound – I am aiming to achieve my weight loss goal in 4 months time.
Give this exercise a try with your resolution now!
With the foundation of your resolution in place, you can then go on to break down the steps necessary to follow through on your goal and make this year the year that you achieve it.
Need help getting started?
Our world-class coaches on Hello Coach can help you get clear on your goals, keep you accountable, and set up a game plan for success.