Six Methods for Keeping Resolutions
We make ’em, we break ’em: Research has suggestions on how to stay focused on goals
The start of a new year is for many a signal to set goals. Lose weight. Exercise more. Spend more time with the kids. Spend more time with the parents. Spend less time checking your messages. Spend less, period.
Yet all too often, whether it is February or July, our good intentions fizzle and we lose our resolution momentum.
If you’re a New Year’s resolution type, academia has unearthed some hacks that can help you refine your goal-setting and stay committed to following through.
Right-size your goal. Instead of saying you want to lose 25 pounds this year, maybe break it down into a goal of losing three or four pounds a month. Or add a weekly goal. Hitting short-term milestones creates momentum, which fuels ongoing motivation.
Challenge yourself, but also give yourself room to mini-fail. Researchers found that setting a goal with a bit of wiggle room keeps us committed, more than having an unforgiving goal. For example, if you vow to go to the gym or work out seven days a week, and then you only go five or six, you feel like you have failed. But if you tell yourself your goal is to move your body seven days a week, but you will allow yourself two days a week (or eight days a month) to not work out if that’s how things fall out, you will have still met your goal. And staying on goal is motivation to keep at it.
Pair it with pleasure or an indulgence. A study of college gym attendees found that those who limited their listening to a favorite book when they were at the gym, ended up going to the gym more. Find some binge-worthy book, movie or television series and then vow you will only dive in when you are tackling your workout, or another hard-to-look-forward-to resolution.
Write a letter to an older you. If your goal is health or lifestyle related, sit down and write a letter to your future self about how you hope your future self will feel and how you want to be able to lead your life. Lots of rolling around with the grandkids on the floor? Plenty of travel? Research has found that when we actively think about our future self we are more motivated to take steps today that will support our older self. It becomes easier to add to retirement savings or exercise more or binge our vice of choice less.
The writing part is all about creating “precommitment.” When you formalize a goal like this it can help you stay focused. Keep it near; when you find yourself slipping, pull it out and give it a read.
Create accountability. Or ask someone to be your accountability coach. Building on the precommitment notice, tell a friend about a goal and vow to check in with them on your progress. When we go “public” with a goal, it helps us stay committed. The stickk.com website provides a framework for committing to a goal. It says that people who assign someone to be a referee (accountability coach) are two times more likely to succeed. It also finds that when people put money on the line — ex: I will donate $X to a cause I love (or hate) — they are three times more successful.
When you trip up, gear up for a new fresh start. As popular as New Year’s resolutions are, there is nothing magical about using this start date. Researchers have found that we can effectively reboot our effort by picking any vivid date that gives us a clear demarcation between our past (we broke our resolution) and our future full of the opportunity (I am going to hit this resolution!). That can be next Monday, the first day of the next month, your kid’s upcoming birthday. Pick a memorable day, and get back at it.