Every NYE millions of people make resolutions of what they want to achieve, but by the end of the year statistically those are rarely accomplished. So how do you actually set about making those resolutions stick and getting the desired results? After doing a lot of reading on the topic and trying out numerous methods, here are five of the most effective ways I have found to stick with goals (any time of the year!) from setting new habits to breaking old ones!
1) Set a Goal instead of making a Resolution
Resolutions tend to be vague aspirational statements like losing weight rather than specific goals that are broken down into measurable and attainable steps. If losing weight is the goal this can be broken down into steps such as going to the gym twice a week or cutting back on eating sweets. If saving money is the goal than determining where you spend most is important or doing direct deposits into investment accounts would be beneficial so that you never see the money. Identify the actions required in order to meet that goal and spell them out. These should be clearly defined and once you outline exactly what needs to be done, implement it by taking the next step.
2) Make it a Habit
How successful or unsuccessful you will be at achieving your goals is a result of your habits. One of the best books I have read about making new habits to reach goals is Atomic Habits by James Clear who goes into great details about the mechanics for how to build successful habits. Some of his key points are focused on how to incorporate habits into your existing routine by 'habit stacking', making them easy, and making them appealing. For example, if you already have a routine of watching a TV show every night, but you want to have better abs, make yourself do 50 crunches before turning on the TV. This adds the habit of an ab workout into your already existing routine making it easier to remember every day and there is a reward (watching the show) that you look forward to at the end. It is best to try this method with something you already do every day that is enjoyable.
3) Break the Bad Habits
Sometimes achieving goals is less about making new habits than breaking old ones. If eating healthier is the goal, but you maintain the same routine, it can be nearly impossible to quit eating the endless amounts of appealing snacks or grabbing fast food. In the exact opposite of the steps for making new habits, make the habit you want to break more difficult. Change the routine- rather than driving home past your favorite fast food restaurant at the end of a day when you are tired and more likely to give-in, take a different route home.
In The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg, he explains habits are comprised of 4 parts: Cue, Craving, Response and Reward. If you are quitting smoking, the cue may be seeing the box of cigarettes which causes the craving, the response is smoking the cigarette resulting in the reward, feeling relaxed and more calm. However, if the reward of feeling relaxed is the goal, it is possible to supplement the method by something else like going for a quick jog or listening to music. Also it is best to hide any of the cues that may trigger the craving. If you are trying to minimize time spent on social media, then delete the apps on your smart phone so you only have access to them from your computer and don't end up endlessly scrolling through and wasting time throughout the day.
4) Join a Group
After the initial excitement of making a change wears off, it is easy to fall back into old routines especially if you spend most of your time with people who do the same. It is harder to change a habit if the environment stays the same which is why most drug users relapse after returning from rehab because they are surrounded by the same people and the same negative cues (NCBI, 2014). If there is a new habit you want to form, try to spend time with other people that find that activity normal and can be an encouragement. This can be joining a weekly yoga class, finding a local hiking group for weekends, or joining any other group that displays the values or success that you are working towards. Seeing other people doing the same thing makes it seems more attainable and encourages sticking with the habit even when the motivation runs low.
5) Take Action Now
It is easy to constantly make plans of when you are going to start something later once the schedule slows down or when you feel ready, but it is better to start now. Every slow mile you do today is still faster than if you had stayed sitting on the couch. Try a new habit out for even just five minutes a day, picking a specific time and place, and then just going for it. Start by making a goal for every week and writing it down. Seeing a single achievable goal like 'eat one piece of fruit every day' is much easier to tackle than a general notion of eating healthier. Instead of procrastinating until a point when you feel ready, gradually making those small weekly tasks changes your ability to meet the larger goals.
Hopefully these actionable steps and the resources above help in accomplishing some of your goals and changes. Happy 2020!