How to Jumpstart a Broken Resolution
Five ways to make good on promises you make to yourself
If you made a resolution or two at the start of the year, chances are you’re due for a reboot. According to a survey from Quicken.com, 86% of resolution setters expected to have given up by April 1.
On the assumption you’re not a quitter and are eager to get back at it, here are five ways to make good on resolutions, backed up by smart research.
Give yourself a fresh start. Jan. 1 looms over us as the best and only time to set a resolution. So when we fall off our intended path, we’re prone to subconsciously thinking we’ll just wait until next year rolls around.
Get off your New Year’s focus.
Academic research has found that there are all sorts of intra-year landmarks we can use effectively as “fresh starts” to embark on a new goal. First of the month. Start of a new semester. Next Monday. The key: Don’t wait for a big iconic date—Jan. 1, or your birthdate. Just pick any date that makes sense to you and use that as your fresh start. What research finds is that when we set a date to get rolling (again) it creates a psychological moat between our past (regret over a failed resolution) and sets our mind to think about our future (“New resolution, here I come!”).
Set short-term milestones. It’s great to set big goals, but reaching them will be more likely if you set up interim milestones to keep you motivated. Let’s say you currently have one month of living expenses in an emergency savings account, and your big goal is to get to six months’ worth. That’s likely to take some time, and the more time the more likely it is you lose steam.
Build in short-term wins. Set a goal to save $50 a week, or $100 a month — whatever works — and then check in after each week and month, and give yourself a pat on the back for making progress. Or maybe your goal is to start making a dent in your credit card debt. If the bill this month is lower than last month, that’s progress. Perhaps you can use that as motivation to find more ways to free up money today (by spending less) so you can make an even bigger payment next month.
Give yourself pre-set wiggle room. If your goal is to exercise seven days a week and you miss two days, you might give up on the goal because you missed the mark.
Make your ultimate goal is seven days a week, but tell yourself that if you need to skip two days, that’s OK. If you get your body moving five days a week, you will still be on-goal. Think of your wiggle room as an “emergency reserve” that you can tap if needed. Researchers who studied this goal-keeping hack found that it’s most effective if you set high (but not insane) goals and then give yourself a small emergency reserve. Setting hard goals with no wiggle room is a recipe for failure. Setting goals that are too easy is, in its own way, demotivating.
Post-coronavirus goal: Your monthly pledge may be to eat at home every day. But some wiggle room of, say, an emergency reserve of four meals eaten out in the month rewards the imperfect you for making great progress.
Automate. Automate. Automate. The neat thing about a financial goal is that technology makes it so much easier to stay committed. Set up automatic transfers — weekly, monthly, quarterly — from a checking account into a separate savings account, or zap it to an investment account. It’s a totally free service offered by financial institutions whether they are sending or receiving your money.
If your resolution is to get better about paying your bills on time — it’s the single biggest factor in your credit scores— set up automatic bill pay from your bank checking account. Again, it’s free.
Go public. Sharing a goal with others can be its own motivation. Maybe it’s telling a friend or two about a goal, then asking them to serve as your review board/cheerleader/scold with daily/weekly/monthly check-ins.
Another interesting way to motivate: Commit (publicly) that if you fall short of a goal you will make a donation to a cause you are really against. The prospect of giving money to a cause you oppose might be just the trick to help you reach a financial goal.