Did you make New Year's resolutions or plans to change some of your habits this year? If you're like most people, you've either let those slide already, or you're about to. Eighty-eight percent of New Year's resolutions are history before April 30, according to Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, which makes goal-setting software.
But it doesn't have to be that way. It really is possible to make plans for change and then get them to stick. If you're struggling with keeping to your habit-changing plans, or you've already lapsed but want to give it another try, take heart. And follow these simple steps for making your work, health, and personal plans of action stick.
1. Small changes are better than big ones.
Humans have a finite capacity for self-discipline. But we can change our habits by sticking to a new behavior pattern for two months and one week, or sometimes less. Take these two facts and put them together and a logical plan of action emerges: Make a small daily change and stick to it religiously for 66 days (the average required for permanent change). Then, once that first small change has become second nature, you can build on it with a new habit change for the next 66 days. (Here's more on why small changes are more permanent than big ones.)
2. Break long-term plans into 30-day ones.
There are two benefits to this, Duggan says. "This not only allows you to gain visibility into progress, but also lets you tweak the process of achievement along the way."
It's smart approach. Let's say you want to write a book. You give yourself a deadline of six months to complete your first draft. If after the first month you've written only 10 pages, you may have a clear sense that you're in trouble, but not a specific idea of how far off course you are or what it would take to catch up.
Another way to look at it is that a full-length book should be at least 250 pages or 75,000 words. If you want to do it in six months, you'll need to write an average 12,500 words a month, or 2,900 per week. That should tell you exactly what you need to do if you want to stick to your original timeline. Perhaps even more important, if you finish the week with 2,900 words under your belt, you'll know you're on course, and you can celebrate that small success.
3. Tell someone.
Yup, you're activating the shame factor. If you've decided to swear off ice cream, having your family and workmates know your plan will make it easier to stick to it--and more embarrassing if you grab that pint of Ben & Jerry's.
But there's another important reason for sharing your goals: They might fit in with someone else's. If, say, you plan to learn better social media skills, perhaps someone else's goal is to improve social media throughout your company or department. You might work together to pick courses, books, or speakers that can help both you and your co-workers learn what you need to know.
4. Embrace change.
"When you set ambitious goals, they don't always go as planned. Life happens. Be OK with backing down if it's damaging to other areas of your life," Duggan advises.
Some goals may prove to be too ambitious and should be replaced with more reasonable ones, like training for a 10K as opposed to a half-marathon. Other goals may become irrelevant as circumstances change around you. Either way, you should always be willing to revisit your goals and adjust or replace them as warranted. This is very different from simply giving up on them.
5. Use metrics.
It's hard to change what you can't measure--you never know whether you're making progress or not. So, Duggan says, "Find a way to incorporate measurable milestones. Even a goal like 'spending more time with your family' can become measurable by assigning yourself tasks such as 'playing board games with the kids twice per week.'" (Here's a look at how small businesses can use metrics most effectively.)
Once you figure out what the right metrics are to measure your achievement, you can set daily or weekly goals and check yourself against them, making adjustments as necessary.
This will not only help you see if you're making progress, it will also keep you motivated, even when you manage only small steps. And staying motivated is essential. That's what will give you the best chance of keeping your resolutions for the long term.