Every year I write some kind of New Year's resolution post, and every year I cite the same dismal statistic showing that 92 percent of resolutions fail. It's pretty disheartening, frankly. Is there any tip of trick out there that can turn around our miserable success rate?
Some argue no and say we should ditch the whole idea in favor of some other approaches to self betterment. Others offer research-backed tricks to ensure you are among the tiny sliver of folks who actually manage to stick with your resolution. I've shared some of these before, but I've never really felt I landed on a silver bullet. At least not until this year.
While nothing will make changing your life in significant ways easy, a recent post on The Conversation from Georgetown psychology professor Jelena Kecmanovic offering a rundown of all the science on keeping resolutions to be about as helpful as we're going to get. Among her many pieces of great advice, one trick stuck out to me and, handily, it consists of just two little words.
We all know the trouble with resolutions - life happens. You really do want to make it to the gym four times a week, but then your daughter has a ballet recital, your team is behind on that big report, or you come down with yet another cold. When these sort of obstacles hit, it's all too easy to let your commitment to fitness (or whatever goal you chose) to fall by the wayside.
There's precious little you can do to make life more predictable (if I ever find any good ideas, I promise I'll share). But while you can't stop the unexpected, you can plan for it's inevitable arrival. And that preparation is key to sticking with your resolutions, according to Kecmanovic. All you need to get started are the words "if" and "then."
"Even the best resolution falls apart when your busy schedule and exhaustion take over," Kecmanovic observes. "Formulate a series of plans for what to do when obstacles present themselves. These 'if-then' plans are shown to improve self-control and goal attainment."
The time to decide what to do when things get tough, in other words, is way before things get tough. So even if you're harried, sick, or sleep deprived you're primed to make a positive decision. You've already done the tough work of developing a plan, now all you have to do is follow it. Kecmanovic offers examples of what that looks like in practice.
"Each time you wake up in the middle of the night craving candies or chips, you can plan instead to read a guilty-pleasure magazine, or log into your online community of healthy eaters for inspiration, or eat an apple slowly and mindfully, savoring each bit. When you're tired and about to skip that gym class you signed up for, call your supportive sister who is on standby. Anticipate as many situations as possible and make specific plans, vividly imagining the situations and what you will do in the moment," she advises.
Preparation is more than half the battle.
You might think that setting a resolution just means reflecting on your life and setting down your goals. Those are, of course, essential steps. But Kecmanovic's advice makes clear that is only the beginning of the process. You also need to prepare your battle plans for success.
That means imagining all the ways things could go wrong and then developing specific strategies for each situation. That could be stocking up on healthy snacks, lining up a cheerleader to act as an accountability partner, finding that babysitter you'll need before you need her, or figuring out alternate ways to configure your schedule when you get busy.
But whatever form it takes, this kind of preparation should fit neatly into an "if X, then Y" format. By thinking through as many of these scenarios as you can ahead of time and streamlining your response, you're likely to radically increase your chances of sticking with your goals.
Looking for more New Year's resolution tips? Kecmanovic's post is full of great ones.