It's almost January, and we all know what that means: Millions of Americans are about to make their New Year's resolutions. Research suggests approximately 40 percent of U.S. adults will resolve to change their lives in some way come January 1.

Not surprisingly, the largest category of resolutions falls under weight loss. This is followed by finances, exercise, career success, eating better, managing stress, quitting smoking, and focusing on personal relationships. All of these are laudable goals -- but in six months, upwards of 60 percent of those who made resolutions will have abandoned them.

If the odds suggest that New Year's resolutions might not work, how can you defy those odds? How can you count yourself among the 40 to 46 percent of resolvers who will still be successful in six months? Here's how: You start by implementing the following strategies to craft New Year's resolutions that actually stick.

Identify your motivations.

It's very helpful to determine your motivation style before establishing any resolutions. Motivational styles typically fall into one of two categories: extrinsic or intrinsic.

If you're extrinsically motivated, you're probably compelled to action by forces outside of yourself -- it might be easier for you to work out if your friends encourage you to join them at the gym, for example. If you're intrinsically motivated, then you might go to the gym on your own because you love how you feel after you work out -- in other words, the motivation comes from inside.

Knowing whether you're extrinsically or intrinsically motivated can help you plan the best structure for achieving your goals. If you're extrinsically motivated, you'll probably want to focus on finding an accountability partner and developing a rewards system for your efforts. If you're intrinsically motivated, it will be important for you to focus on why you want to achieve your goal in the first place. Consider writing down your motivation on Post-It Notes that you stick around your house, office, and car so you can keep this at the forefront of your mind.

Emphasize actions over results.

It's easy to identify something you want to change in your life. It's harder to identify how that change will happen. For example, saying, "I'm going to find my dream job" or "I'm finally going to get in shape" is vague. These statements don't provide you any direction as to how to make those things happen.

If you want your resolutions to be successful, it's important to focus on the actions you'll take to achieve your goal. Make sure these actions are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable. Using the two examples above, we could modify them to:

  • "I am going to add [X skills] to my résumé by doing [Y], apply to [X number] of jobs, and reconnect with [X person] who can assist me in my job search"
  • "I am going to run [X times] a week for [X minutes] until I can run a 5K without walking"

Then, clearly delineate the actions you will take to achieve these goals, such as attending professional development workshops to beef up your résumé, finding a running partner, and so on. Dividing up long-term resolutions into short-term goals will make everything feel much more manageable. Write these action items down on your calendar for added accountability.

Get real.

Research consistently finds that we're more likely to stick to our resolutions when they're realistic. For example, saying "I'm going to work out seven days a week and never eat sugar again" is a lot different than saying "I'm going to work out three days a week and include vegetables in all my dinners." Taking small, consistent steps toward an achievable goal will ensure much greater success than if you set the bar too high and are immediately demoralized by your inability to stick to that preposterous plan.

It's also important to get real about how many resolutions you're taking on at once. The more goals you set for yourself, the more difficult you make it to focus on any one objective. Research suggests you're better off choosing one resolution and focusing all your efforts there.

Plan to succeed.

It's important to think positive and visualize your success. And it's equally as important to anticipate challenges so they don't blindside you when they (inevitably) rear their heads. Spend some time brainstorming possible obstacles to your success -- and then spend even more time brainstorming how you'll surmount these obstacles.

For example, if your goal is to save money, an obstacle might be invitations to go out for dinner or drinks with friends. You might surmount that by hosting a weekly potluck at your apartment. You get the idea.

Enlist support.

Accountability is one of the best ways to stick to a goal. It's why most of us don't struggle to meet a work deadline imposed by our boss. But we might let ourselves off the hook if we had planned to cook dinner on a given night but choose to order takeout instead. Now, consider how things might have been different if you had planned to cook dinner that night, told a friend your plans, and committed to sending them a picture of your meal once it was cooked. This would probably reduce the ease with which you're able to shirk said commitment.

Accountability is especially important if you're extrinsically motivated, but it can help virtually anyone. So enlist a willing friend or family member, share your plans with them, and then develop a system through which they help you remain accountable.

Finally, it's also important to remain positive. This means framing your resolutions in a positive way -- e.g., "I'm going to take steps to improve my health so I feel more energized" versus "I'm going to stop being such a lazy slob and start working out." It also means rewarding yourself with positive reinforcement whenever you follow through on your commitments and progress toward your goals. Giving yourself the proverbial carrot instead of hitting yourself with the stick is the final piece of the puzzle that will help you toward resolution success.

Published on: Dec 16, 2016
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