By Brittany Doohan
It happens every year. Come January 1st, you pledge to lose those extra pounds, to quit smoking, to finally start that blog. It’s a new year, and — watch out world! — here comes the new you.
Making a resolution is easy — making it last is the real challenge. Whether it happens after a few days, a few weeks or a few months, most people call it quits on their resolutions before the year is up.
So why can’t you stick to your goals? Read on to discover nine resolution-killing mistakes you don’t know you’re making — and what you can do to make this the year you succeed.
As New Year’s Eve approaches, you may be teeming with motivation and have a handful of new goals — but resist the urge to get started on all of them at the same time.
“Being ambitious is great, but trying to do too many things at once can make you so unfocused that you just bounce around like Tigger,” said Margie Warrell, executive life coach, media personality and author of Find Your Courage: 12 Acts for Becoming Fearless in Work and in Life. Setting out to accomplish multiple goals concurrently (like learning to play the guitar while training for a triathlon) can leave you feeling too overwhelmed to accomplish anything.
When you do decide on your focus, break it down into small, measurable steps. If your goal is to run a 5K, for example, set up a realistic fitness plan to increase your stamina and distance week by week. If you want to lose weight, don’t vow to cut sweets, alcohol and carbohydrates from your diet all at once. Pick one not-so-healthy indulgence to avoid (like your daily dessert) and slowly build healthier eating habits.
Remember, Warrell says, “you have the rest of the year to pursue other goals and changes.” Take it one goal at a time!
Are you pledging that this will be the year you’ll eat better, relax more or be happier? The less specific your resolution is, the less likely you are to fulfill it, said Meg Selig, licensed professional counselor and author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. A specific resolution, Selig said, sets you up to take concrete steps toward reaching your goal.
So instead of resolving to relax more, jot down activities that relax you, like taking a bubble bath, doing yoga or reading your favorite book. Then pick one and figure out how you can manage your time better to incorporate that activity into your daily life (going to yoga three times a week or reading a book 30 minutes a day before you go to bed). “Describe your goals and resolutions in ways that allow you to track your progress,” said Warrell. That way, you’ll more easily be able to judge whether or not you’re sticking to your plan.
Lasting change takes hard work. Many people have trouble following through on their New Year’s resolutions because they’re not 100 percent committed to the goal they’ve chosen.
“A common [resolution] mistake is trying to change something that you don’t really want to change,” said Selig.
Are you vowing to eat more kale because you read that you should? Or to hit the gym every day because that’s what your friends do? Rather than picking a goal that you feel like you should, have to or must do, try to come up with something that you want to do, said Selig. A resolution that forces you to do something you detest (or deprives you of something you love) will leave you constantly frustrated, and will make you less likely to stick with it long-term.
Instead, frame your goal in a way that focuses on your core values, said Warrell. Don’t resolve to lose 10 pounds; resolve to exercise each day so you have enough energy to play with your kids. This will boost your willingness to make the changes you need to, and will motivate you to keep moving forward.
“When you have that deeper sense of purpose, it compels you to dig deep when the going gets tough and stay the course — no matter what hurdles you have to jump,” said Warrell.
You’ve decided this will be the year you run a marathon. You imagine yourself crossing the finish line in record time rocking a sleek runner’s physique. On January 1st, you strap on your brand new running shoes and hit the pavement. But after about a week, it becomes harder to wake up before work for your jog, you’re not running as fast as you would like, and you’re getting winded more easily than you expected.
It can be difficult to stay motivated when reaching your goal turns out to be tougher than you thought it would be. “It’s easy to get caught up in an initial wave of enthusiasm, sure that your efforts will meet with early success, only to come crashing down when they don’t,” said Warrell.
Change requires patience: It takes an average of two months of repeated practice to establish a new habit or behavior, according to a study done by the University College London. To keep from falling off the wagon when you encounter a setback, remember that the road to your end goal is a constant work in progress, and it’s okay to change course along the way. Commit yourself to making slow but steady progress toward that finish line. “Focus on being able to jog a little bit further every time you go for a run, rather than being able to run five miles by day five,” said Warrell.
You miss your spin class one morning or you cheat on your diet with a cookie at lunch. You may feel discouraged, but that doesn’t mean you need to wave the white flag of surrender on your resolution. Too often, we equate a temporary setback with total failure, said Warrell, believing that we should “go home, hide our dreams under the bed, and never let them see daylight again.” You’re not perfect; as you work toward a goal, you’re inevitably going to slip up. The way you respond to those setbacks determines whether or not your resolution is successful.
If you have trouble waking up for an early morning spin class, find one that meets right after work. If you’re tempted by sweet treats in the office, stock the fridge with your favorite fruit, or skip the break room until the cookies are polished off. “Reflect on the lesson your failure offers and make adjustments accordingly,” said Warrell. “Then tap your inner John Wayne: Saddle up again and climb back on your horse!”
Whatever you’re resolving this year, writing your goal down can go a long way toward helping you succeed. A 2007 study from Dominican University in California found that people who wrote down their goals, as well as the specific actions they would take to achieve them, accomplished 76 percent of what they aimed to do. Those who didn't jot down their goals? They achieved less than half of what they'd hoped to.
When you write down your goals, it sends a message to your brain that you’re going to make your resolution a priority. “It helps you cross that existential divide from ‘I should change’ to ‘I want to change and I'm going to vow to do it,’” said Selig.
Putting pen to paper has a number of benefits, including helping you to clarify your goal and develop a step-by-step plan to follow through. It also gives you an opportunity to measure your progress and helps you to figure out how to adjust your behavior to avoid any roadblocks you might encounter.
As you begin to make real strides toward success, you’ll have a record of how hard you’ve worked and all you’ve accomplished so far — the perfect motivational push you need to stick with your goal (or start a new one!).