I don't want to kick off the new year on a negative note. But if you're among the 40 percent of Americans who made a New Year's resolution, only an elite 8 percent of you will feel as if you were successful in achieving your goals. In fact, it's been found that 80 percent of resolutions will fail by the second week of February. Some even say Jan. 19 -- today -- is the day most resolutions meet their death.
Don't beat yourself up over this -- or swear off resolutions for good. There are actually some pretty good reasons why resolutions end in failure. Psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert said that people don't see resolutions through because they aren't specific enough, they're often framed using negative language, or they aren't relevant to the person setting them.
Additionally, most resolutions are too lofty, unrealistic, and rushed. It would be amazing if I could run a 5K next month in personal record time. If I'm being real with myself, however, that's just not going to happen. I'll have to gradually work toward that goal, not just dive right into it.
Perhaps most compelling of all, resolutions can be time-consuming. Just take trying to improve your health this year as an example. Exercising and preparing healthy meals can take up a good portion of your day. Who has time to hit the gym for two hours each day or cook a meal from scratch every night when you're also juggling work and family responsibilities?
The good news is that there are ways to actually stick to your New Year's resolutions this year and beyond.
Dream big, but think tiny.
There's a difference between setting unrealistic goals and setting big goals. In fact, as Harvard Health Publishing's Healthbeat points out, "Audacious goals are compelling" and can be accomplished through "perseverance, encouragement, and support." You may even inspire those around you so much that they offer their unwavering support. Besides cheering you on, they could offer to take on some of your less important tasks so you have the extra time to chase down your dreams.
But large and soaring goals will only be achieved if they're broken down into more manageable and measurable tasks. These small steps move you toward your ultimate goal incrementally. It's like a frequent buyer card -- after getting two free punches, people are motivated to become repeat customers. Celebrating smaller milestones along the way can both make you feel accomplished and motivate you to continue.
Stop calling it a "New Year's resolution."
Another reason why resolutions fail? It's the word itself.
"Resolution. It's a strong, demanding word. It screams, I must!," writes Marla Tabaka on Inc. "It's a demand that we place upon ourselves, and there is no room for failure." But, as we already know, "failure is pretty much inevitable." It's similar to how people will take a cheat day and then figure, "Well, I've already blown my diet -- might as well eat whatever I want this week and start over next week."
There's another issue with this word: We associate it with the beginning of a new year. As a result, we feel pressured to change a behavior or habit in January. Choosing another date -- near the beginning of the school year or on your birthday, two other times that feel like the start of a "new year" -- can help you reframe your goals as yours, not resolutions fueled by a holiday.
Reduce "activation effort."
Here's a problem I've experienced that I'm sure you have as well. There are barriers to entry when changing or adopting a habit. For example, you don't go to the gym because it entails changing your clothes and physically going to the gym. You don't learn a new musical instrument because it requires signing up for lessons and practicing in your free time.
The solution, according to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, is the "20-second rule." Leave a gym bag in your car or place your guitar within immediate reach to reduce the amount of time spent getting started.
Sure, it will take longer than 20 seconds to make a difference. But, as Achor explains, this will "lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid." The less energy it takes to get started, the easier it is to get started.
Learn from past failures.
Failure is one of the best ways to learn and grow. For example, go back and consider why you didn't follow through with past resolutions. Was the goal too vague? Too ambitious? If so, you know that this year, you need to scale things back or be more specific.
Did you experience setbacks? Develop a backup plan, or come up with options if your worst-case scenarios happen. If a big expense eats up your gym fund, what can you do to work out instead? You have lots of options if you think through them: running or walking outside, YouTube videos, free apps with coaching. By predicting possible obstacles and planning for them, you'll be able to overcome them.
Share your experiences.
You probably shouldn't share your resolutions on social media -- research has found it can do more harm than good. But do share your goals with friends and family. The American Psychological Association also recommends joining "a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of coworkers quitting smoking."
Having others to share the challenges and the highlights with makes the process easier and less intimidating. This can also keep you motivated to pursue your goals because they can cheer you on and help hold you accountable. Some people need external motivation -- if that's you, build a support team before you even get started.
Change your mindset.
As Michele Solis explains in Scientific American, research has found that people will give up on their goals after experiencing setbacks or failure. However, "if you approach setbacks and your ensuing negative emotions with the right mindset, you will be more likely to bounce back."
To do this, you need to increase your sense of control by seeking feedback, examining your actions, and viewing the journey as an adventure. You should also use your frustration to your advantage by letting it fuel your focus. Don't beat yourself up -- realize that feeling discouraged means you care.
Believe in yourself.
Yep, it's that simple: Self-efficacy is believing that you have the power to change. In turn, this will give you the confidence and resilience to stick to your New Year's resolutions. It can be easy to wallow in the past, but confidence requires looking to the future and trusting in what you can do moving forward.
Make a list of all the new habits you've adopted over the years or the big accomplishments you notched, even when they seemed unlikely. These are examples of what you can do when you put your mind to something and stick with it.
Following through with your resolutions is no easy task. But if you push yourself to do things differently this year, you'll be more likely to follow through with them -- and have something to celebrate when this year comes to a close.