Pick the Right Resolution: Give yourself your best shot at success. Set a goal that’s doable and meaningful. A lot of these resolutions fail because they’re not the right resolutions.
Your goals should be SMART. That’s an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It may work for management, but it can also work in setting your resolutions, too.
- Specific. Your resolution should be absolutely clear. “Making a concrete goal is really important rather than just vaguely saying ‘I want to lose weight.’ You want to have a goal: How much weight do you want to lose and at what time interval?”
- Measurable. This may seem obvious if your goal is a fitness or weight loss related one, but it’s also important if you’re trying to cut back on something, too. If, for example, you want to stop biting your nails, take pictures of your nails over time so you can track your progress in how those nails grow back out. Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.
- Achievable. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life. So, for example, resolving to save enough money to retire in five years when you’re 30 years old is probably not realistic, but saving an extra $100 a month may be.
- Relevant. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons? “If you do it out of the sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in that moment, it doesn’t usually last long,” said Dr. Michael Bennett, a psychiatrist and co-author of two self-help books. “But if you build up a process where you’re thinking harder about what’s good for you, you’re changing the structure of your life, you’re bringing people into your life who will reinforce that resolution, then I think you have a fighting chance.”
- 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.
Create Your Plan: Your end goal won’t just magically appear. Because you won’t just wake up and change your life, you not only need a plan for what to do, but also for what roadblocks you’ll come across along the way.
Leap Over Resolution Hurdles: No one’s perfect, and your quest for your resolution won’t be either. But you can get back on track. What’s the best way to tackle problems that arise on your way to success? First, remember no matter how well you plan, change is hard. “You’re up against a part of yourself that’s never going to change. It’s always going to push at you in certain directions that are unhealthy. You’re going to have to really create something step by step in order to manage it,” Dr. Bennett said. So before hurdles get in your way, make sure you have a plan to jump over them.
- It’s too much and I have so far to go. A perceived lack of progress can be frustrating. Dr. Wallin suggested focusing on whatever the smaller number it is: your progress, or how much you have left to do.
- I’m trying to stay positive, but it’s not working: Try to be positive, but realistic. Yes, imagine the goal or positive fantasy, but then look at what obstacles are in the way and how to get over them. Dr. Oettingen calls this technique W.O.O.P. — Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.
· Wish: What do you want?
· Outcome: What would the ideal outcome be? What will your life look like when you hit your goal?
· Obstacle: You know yourself. What will try to stop you? What has sidelined you before?
· Plan: How will you get around it?
- I can’t stick to this routine. Maybe your routine simply isn’t flexible enough.
- I’m getting too much outside pressure. This could be a sign that you’re trying to change for the wrong reasons. Have a talk with yourself about whether you want to make this change for you or because someone else told you to
- I slipped up. The first time you revert to your old ways, forget it. “If you screw up, what you should do the first time is just pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t engage in that negative mindset,” Mr. Duhigg said. “Just wake up the next day and pretend you didn’t slip and go back to whatever the pattern was you were trying to encourage.”
First and foremost: If you fail at your resolution attempt, don’t beat yourself up, and know you’re not alone. After all, Dr. Milkman points out, “we struggle to do the things that we know are good for us because we give into impulses for instant gratification.”
Most importantly be kind to yourself if you didn’t reach your goal! You can start fresh again if you like. A goal doesn’t need to be tied to a New Year’s resolution it can be whenever you want to make a change.
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