Millions of Americans made resolutions on New Year’s Eve to do better and achieve more in the new year. Within the next 30 days or so, most of those resolutions will be abandoned. Studies suggest that 80 percent of people who set resolutions on Dec. 31 fall back on old habits by mid-February.
If you’re in that 80 percent, don’t lose heart. Our collective struggle with keeping New Year’s resolutions suggests the problem may lie elsewhere—like with the tradition itself.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail
We set New Year’s resolutions because it’s a natural point for a fresh start. But achieving a life goal is not as easy as turning the page on a calendar.
“Resolution” is a strong, demanding word. For resolution, we need passion, clarity, and inspiration. Yet, often, our New Year’s resolutions are too big or vague. We expect change now. And we don’t give ourselves rewards along the way.
Successful goals require planning, process, and patience. When we don’t have the right support and mindset in place, we get frustrated and give up. And then we do it again the next year without understanding why our New Year’s resolutions failed in the first place.
Setting Goals That Stick
If you find your resolutions are getting wobbly, don’t give up. You can still adapt your approach. Here are seven research-based strategies for setting and keeping goals—no matter what time of year you make them:
- Limit Your Resolutions.
Instead of deciding to tackle every unhealthy habit or life goal, focus your time and energy on one or two. Start with small, achievable goals. Don’t tempt failure by burdening yourself with unrealistic expectations.
- Write it Down.
Write down your goals and why they are important to you. It makes the process formal and makes you accountable to yourself. It will also help you connect your resolution to what you want to achieve in your life.
- Set SMART Goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. For example, rather than resolving to exercise more, you can set a goal of working out three mornings a week for 30 minutes each session. Putting a plan behind your goals provides clarity and makes it easier to track your progress.
- Find Creative Ways to Stay Inspired.
Hang pictures that represent your goals or use sticky notes to keep them front and center. Choose a word that will help you get in the right mindset and make it your mantra. My word for 2021 is “turtle.” A turtle breathes only eight times in one minute. I’m working to breathe slowly and become more mindful about my surroundings before making any decisions. This inspires me to be my best self. When I am my best self, I will be better able to achieve my goals.
- Share Your Intentions With Others.
When you share your goal or inspirational word, it becomes a proclamation of intended success. Your friends and family can better support you if they know what you want to achieve. It can also help you connect with like-minded people.
- Adapt as Needed.
If you slip up, don’t give up. You will have good days and bad days. Don’t let a bad day be reason to quit on your goal. If you consistently find you are not meeting your milestones, try to understand why and change your approach as needed.
- Take Time for Review.
Reflect on your progress throughout the year. Take pride in your successes and fine-tune your plan as needed. At the end of the year, determine what worked and what didn’t work.
Create a Vision for Your Best Life
Experiencing the best of your life doesn’t happen by accident. It takes reflection and planning. It also helps to connect your goals to your purpose, rather than just an outcome.
For example, instead of resolving to achieve a specific weight, you can set a target of being healthier. From there, you can develop a plan that incorporates smaller goals, like exercising 30 minutes a day and cooking healthy meals four days a week. Within a few weeks, these goals will become healthy habits—and those healthy habits will become a lifestyle.
Thinking about your goals in this way will make them more sustainable. It will also help you maintain balance. Instead of getting frustrated and quitting or doubling down in an unhealthy way, you can focus on gradual progress.
Above all, be kind to yourself. Developing a new habit takes time. It requires both mental and physical effort. Celebrate the wins as they come, and have grace with yourself if you stray from your goal.
If you’re feeling stuck, consider meeting with a therapist. Compass Point’s clinical experts can provide guidance and support to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. Get started by calling or requesting an appointment online. It could be the first step to unlocking your potential.