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Ah, the new year. That wonderful time of year when everyone decides the opportunity has come to finally fit back into their high school jeans or pen the Great American Novel. But how many of us actually follow through on our new year’s resolutions?
Many people set lofty resolutions only to later suffer guilt and disappointment in themselves when they fail to follow through on their self-improvement plan. What makes the difference between succeeding at keeping our new year’s resolutions or throwing up our hands? Simple habits make reaching your goals for a new and improved you more achievable and rewarding.
Set One Goal Per Week
Big goals, such as finishing a novel, can easily overwhelm the most ambitious among us. However, breaking larger undertakings down into smaller, more manageable tasks helps us get even the biggest jobs done.
Therefore, if your new year’s goal includes penning your magnum opus, instead of just saying you’ll finish it by the end of the year, set a goal to finish one chapter per week. Look at many of James Patterson’s novels. Many of his chapters consist of a mere couple of pages, and he’s one of the top selling writers in the world. Take a hint from him and aim to finish anywhere from two to four pages per week. By the end of the year, you may just find you’ll have met your larger goal.
Likewise, if your new year’s goal involves losing 20 pounds or more, minor day-to-day fluctuations in weight due to changing hormones, etc., can easily discourage dieters. However, setting a reasonable goal, such as losing one pound per week, can help you to reach your ideal weight well before bathing suit season rolls around again.
Those committing to fitness likewise benefit from setting small goals. Luckily, with the advent of the internet, those looking to improve their physical performance can learn how to do anything from training for a 10k to preparing to compete in a bodybuilding competition. Why not let the experts break down your goal-setting for you?
Cement It in Writing
Writing down our goals creates the psychological equivalent of taking our daily vitamins each morning. Like remembering our AM supplements sets our mind on a healthy track for the day, writing down our goals cements them into our subconscious, making it easier to stay motivated.
Those of us who flourish in creative environments benefit from visualizing while we write. Pen a narrative of what your life will look and feel like once you achieve your goal.
Don’t overlook the power of investing in a daily planner for the new year. While electronic reminder services create convenience, they also lead to lost productivity as alerts popping up constantly on our phone or computer screen tempt us to lose focus and distract ourselves with lower priority tasks. Writing down our daily goals for work or self-improvement in a planner helps us create a timeline to lead us to our goal.
Phone a Friend
Many people who fail to stick to their new year’s goals often create a veil of secrecy surrounding their ambitions, so no one else can shame them should they fail to achieve what they set out to do. But this thinking often backfires by creating a psychological mindset that failure is inevitable.
Avoid falling into this trap by confiding in at least one friend who shares a similar goal, so you can encourage and push each other when the temptation to skip your daily workout or cave to that doughnut craving rears its ugly head.
Extensive evidence suggests sharing your goals and ambitions with a friend helps to keep you on track. In fact, the success of programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous harnesses the power of friendship and mentorship to help recovering addicts stay clean. Why not create a similar supportive relationship to keep your own new year’s goals on track?
Workplace productivity experts recommend using SMART goals to achieve your career ambitions, and the principles of SMART goals work for any area of your life you wish to improve. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.
Specific means outlining exactly what you wish to achieve, such as losing five pounds or running a mile without getting winded. The measurable and time-based metrics refer to breaking down your goal into manageable parts in a solid plan to reach success. Achievable and relevant means your goals must be realistic — think, losing five pounds in a month, not in a mere week — and important to you in some manner. For example, maybe you want to look great for your best friend’s wedding or cross completing a marathon off your bucket list.
While you should avoid punishing yourself for failure, creating consequences related to conscious bad choices helps you to avoid the temptation to let your goals slide once too often. Think about the old school “swear jar” so many of us have used — the consequence for swearing means adding a dime or a quarter to the jar.
Explore your motivations when establishing consequences. If your goal involves cutting down on food waste, make your consequence donating a dollar to a charity devoted to feeding the hungry when you find yourself tossing that leftover Chinese takeout. If your goal involves cutting junk food out of your diet, the consequence may take the form of two days of clean eating for every day you slip up.
Identify Your Intentions
Identifying your intentions behind the new year’s goals you’ve selected takes a bit of soul-searching, but makes your dreams more achievable as you psychologically link your goals to your internal value system. Identifying intentions also helps prevent setting goals that really don’t add any meaning or value to your life.
For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking for 2019, the reality that smoking causes lung cancer might not mean much when it comes to motivating yourself to kick the habit. However, linking smoking cessation to staying alive long enough to see your grandchildren graduate from college provides you with the psychological value structure you need to succeed in quitting nicotine.
Have you noticed that I’ve repeatedly avoided using the word “resolution” and instead prefer the word “goal?” The word “resolution” invites cheating because it makes you feel as if one failure derails your entire intention. Alternately, the word “goal” implies that one or two hiccups along the way won’t put a kibosh to the whole mission.
Forgive yourself when you fail and then get back on track. Instead of letting one pastry indulgence ruin your commitment to weight loss, simply resolve to eat healthier and consume fewer calories the next day. Instead of allowing one missed workout to revert you to the couch-potato kingdom, simply decide to hit the gym a bit harder tomorrow.
Finally, as many people associate new year’s resolutions as restrictive punishments, reject this mindset by rewarding yourself for every step you make toward achieving your goal. Did you get two pages written this week? Reward yourself with a nice dinner or a relaxing hot bath. Did you stick to your yoga practice four days out of the week? Celebrate with a nice new pair of leggings you can don to your next class.
New Year’s resolutions don’t need to be punitive. Instead, setting goals for the new year helps us become better individuals with more to contribute to our families, our careers, our health and our communities. By setting realistic new year’s goals, you can make 2019 your most successful year yet.