Do you remember your New Year's Resolutions for 2017? And if you remember them, how long did you follow them? If you're like 80 percent of people, your resolutions probably didn't last past February. But if so many people struggle with resolutions, the problem must be the resolution and not you...right? According to psychology, that actually may be the case. According to some psychologists, this is because we generally make unrealistic resolutions that are misaligned with our internal view of ourselves. Make 2018 the year you resolve to keep your resolutions. Here are six steps to design ones that stick.
1. Reflect on what actually happened last year.
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the most common resolutions we make are to lose weight, exercise, stop smoking, manage our money better, and reduce our debt. In addition to sounding like good things, the commonality of these resolutions make them easy to share publicly. But resolutions aren't about that. Your resolution should be personal to you. Take some time to think about what actually happened to you in your personal and professional life last year. What are the routine aspects of your life? What went well? What didn't?
2. Choose one thing you wish went differently--and be clear on how.
After reflecting, think about one clear thing that didn't go as expected as desired. This may have been an exercise plan, the way you dealt with an employee or business initiative, or the way you spend your evenings after work. Understand what went wrong and what "good" would have looked like. Studies have shown that the neural synapses that fire when we perform an activity are the same as those that fire when we imagine performing that same activity. By envisioning your ideal state, you'll help yourself get closer to it.
3. Define a specific goal for improvement.
According to brain scientists, changing our habits actually require the formation of new neural pathways in our brain. In order to enable this change, we have to focus on new behaviors and thought patterns rather than sticking to our old ways. Specificity is the key here. Rather than a broad swath goal like "lose weight," identify a small but tangible behavior that will enable you to form a new habit like "go to bed wearing my workout gear."
4. Specify milestones.
The key to achieving a lot is to achieve a lot in small quantities. According to a Texas Women's University psychologist, large, overarching goals seem overwhelming when we can't achieve them immediately. When we set and recognize smaller milestones, we reward ourselves for small changes and are motivated to keep going. Weight Watchers, for example, encourages people to set milestones for achieving 10% of their goal, 50% of their goal, and 10 pounds to go. When people achieve 10%, they are motivated--and confident in their ability--to accomplish another 10%. Work backwards from your desired goal and commit to dates by which you plan to have met the smaller goals leading up to it.
5. Design a way to track progress.
According to the American Psychological Association, you are more likely to meet your goals if you frequently monitor your progress and either physically record it or share it publicly Think about the tools you already use in your everyday life--maybe your Google Calendar or a task management app. Create a meaningful way to track your progress within this tool, whether it's reporting each time you do--or don't--act in a way that aligns with your goal. For added effectiveness, share your progress with friends, family, or your social media followers.
6. Create a contingency plan.
According to behavioral economist Dr. Paul Marciano, our "all or nothing" mindset keeps us from being able to achieve our goals. A year is a long time, and it's almost expected that we will occasionally slip up on our resolutions. They key is to do something rather than nothing. For example, if you goal is to go to bed with an empty email inbox each night, and it's too late for you to do so, at least respond to a couple. Clearing some of your emails is still better than clearing none of them.
New Year's Resolutions are only hard to keep if we design them as such. By following these steps, you will be able to create clear and attainable goals will infinitely more resolve.