We may be only two weeks into the new year, but, statistically speaking, you've probably already given up on your big New Year's resolutions.
But don't feel too bad. According to a recent report from StatisticBrain, while more than 40 percent of the American population made a New Year's resolution last year, only nine percent reporting feeling successful.
In fact, we're so bad at staying committed to our plans to lose weight, write more, or build our side projects that today--January 17--has been dubbed Ditch Your Resolution Day.
However, you don't have to be part of the 91 percent who fail to make drastic change.
Why We Constantly Fail to Keep Our New Year's Resolutions.
There are a few basic reasons why resolutions fail:
Resolutions place most of our focus on a result and not how we'll get there.
Resolutions rarely connect to our core values.
Resolutions are simply too big to accomplish.
Put these all together, and you get what psychologists call "False Hope Syndrome"--where we're overconfident in what can be achieved, and then give up when we don't see results fast enough.
How to Make Goals and Resolutions You'll Actually Stick With.
This isn't to say that setting ambitious goals for yourself is a bad idea. There's an ancient Chinese proverb that says: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
The New Year is a fantastic opportunity to reassess the work you're doing, refocus your attention, and set out on a new path. However, any change of substance takes time and effort to reach.
Commit to a Change That Is Ridiculously Small and Easy to Do.
Rather than focus on a huge goal or result, simply look for ways to be one percent better every single day. Author James Clear calls this the aggregation of marginal gains:
"In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is one percent better or one percent worse. (In other words, it won't impact you very much today.) But as time goes on, these small improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don't."
Instead of your big resolution to "get more exercise" or "write a novel," start by taking the stairs each morning instead of the elevator, or writing 200 words when you first wake up.
Build on the Good Habits You Already Have.
The person you are now is the culmination of all the habits and behaviors you've picked up over your life. Your mind and body are used to who you are and changing that won't come without a struggle.
So, why fight it?
Instead of trying to start from a blank page, simply rewrite parts of who you already are. If your goal is to read more, then instead of reading for 10 minutes before bed, say you'll read for 20 or 30. If your goal is to eat healthier, say you'll cook at home five nights a week instead of three.
Remember what writer Will Durant said:
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit."
Instead of Changing Your Actions, Change Your Story.
We all have a story we tell about ourselves. This could be saying "I'm the kind of person who tries new things," or "I'm a voter." While these stories are the basis of our identity, they're certainly not set in stone.
In his book, Redirect, psychology professor Timothy Wilson describes a simple way to change your behaviors called "story editing." Here's how it works:
Start by writing out your existing "story" as honestly as possible. This could be simply talking about who you are or a list of statements like, "I am the kind of person who does X."
Pay special attention to anything in that story that goes against the new behaviors you want to build. For example, if you're the kind of person who has late-night snacks, this goes against your goal of being healthier.
Now rewrite your story. Use the same format, except this time tell the story of someone who has made the behavior changes you want.
It may seem too simple, but the researcher shows that this simple intervention can have long-lasting results. Or, as author Kurt Vonnegut said:
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."