Making New Year's resolutions is popular. About two-thirds of American adults do, according to research from YouGov.com. Some of the most popular ones are eating healthier, getting more exercise, saving money, and taking better care of yourself.
But you can bet that most of the people aren't going to succeed in what they say they want to attain. It's not that they can't; they just go the wrong way about it. That's what researchers have found, and it parallels my own experience over the years. You can make changes successfully so long as you go about it the right way. Here are the steps you need to take.
1. Formulate tangible goals
The biggest problem is that the goals are open-ended, which makes it tough to fulfill them. Take the biggie: healthier eating. What does that mean? Eating vegetables and fruits at least two times a day? Less red meat? Cutting sweets and soda? Some of these? All of them?
The question you need to answer is not what your goal is supposed to mean to someone else, but to you. The more specific you can be, the better your chance of doing what you want to do because you can plan appropriately.
2. Be reasonable
Biting off more than you can chew is a good way to make sure you never finish the meal. The more you insist on achieving and the faster it is supposed to happen, the more difficult you make the task and the more likely you will fail.
So, instead of wanting to lose 30 pounds, aim for 10. Once you're there, you're allowed to set up a new oal.
3. Break things down into steps
Whether looking at New Year's resolutions, starting a company, or preparing dinner for a group of friends, break things down into parts. Monolithic goals are overwhelming. You're not certain where to start, so you don't.
When you've broken things down, you can concentrate on each step in its place and time. The experience is like planning a trip by car for vacation. You make sure the vehicle is in sound shape, check the route you have to take, break up the travel over a number of days, and research where you'll stay en route.
Figure out the habits you need
Many resolutions are about changing behavior. Success will likely mean breaking bad habits -- having dessert automatically after dinner or spending money reflexively.
Rather than targeting what should end, consider replacing the bad habits with good ones. Instead of not spending money in a habitual way, you save it and put it into a bank account, or even a jar on your dresser. Turn a choice of dessert into the decision on what fruit you might have instead.
Take your medicine
This is probably the toughest step of all. You have to make yourself take those steps to reach your goal. Don't talk about it a lot with people you know. Just get down to work and do a bit every day. This is like a small side job you've taken on, which will pay off in a big way. Your efforts will ultimately add up.