Studies upon studies have shown that people love to make New Year’s resolutions, but they’re not usually great at sticking to them.
Researchers from the University of Scranton followed 200 people with resolutions over a two-year period. 77% of these people were able to keep their resolutions for one week—even 64% were still committed after a month—but just 19% ultimately followed through and made that lasting change when researchers checked in at the two-year mark.
Why don’t we follow through with our New Year’s resolutions? There are many different reasons, but a large number of folks set goals that are too big or incredibly broad. The top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2017, as compiled by Statistic Brain, more or less all fall into the “too big/too broad” trap:
- Lose weight/healthier eating
- Better financial decisions
- Quit smoking
- Do more exciting things
- Spend more time with family/close friends
- Work out more often
- Learn something new on my own
- Do more good deeds for others
- Find the love of my life
We make these sweeping proclamations that we’re going to lose 50 pounds or fall in love, but then don’t create a plan to follow through. This results in failed goals and the promise of trying again next year.
Keep Your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions with SMART Goals
If you’ve ever tried to make any kind of lasting change in your life, you may have heard about setting SMART goals—SMART stands for:
- Specific: Your goal should be as specific as possible.
- Measureable: You must define how you will measure your progress.
- Achievable: Choose a resolution that is realistic and able to be achieved.
- Relevant: Is this the right time to work toward a goal? Or would a different time during the year make more sense?
- Time-based: Commit to a time frame for achieving your goal in order to create a sense of urgency.
So, instead of declaring, “I’m going to lose weight this year,” make your resolution SMART by saying, “I will lose 5% of my body weight in three months.” You could also make additional smaller goals that will help you achieve that primary goal—for example, “consume 1500 calories each day,” or “walk 10,000 steps every day.”
For Big Results, Think Small
Maybe you’re a big picture kind of person—you like to set enormous, lofty goals so that when you achieve them, you feel awesome. There’s one thing wrong with that approach, though: you don’t have as much willpower as you think you do.
Research has shown that our brains fear big projects and often fail to commit to long-term goals because we’re susceptible to giving up after the first slip-up. It’s also been proven that people are prone to procrastinating on large projects because they fixate on what they perceive to be the worst parts. Your brain will even trick you into being fake productive in order to avoid a big project—how many times have you gotten side-tracked by files that “needed” to be color-coded or dishes that simply “had” to be done immediately?
How do successful people avoid procrastination and fight that natural impulse to do something else? They trick their brains by doing very small tasks. On their own, small tasks are easy to do. However, as you do those small actions more and more, you start to create a habit and begin slowly chipping away at the bigger goal.
How small? Really small. Mini. Stephen Guise—who ultimately wrote the book Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results—wanted to exercise more, so instead of committing to going to the gym three times a week, he told himself he only had to do one push-up every day. That’s it. Pretty soon, he was going above and beyond with his exercise goals—but even when he didn’t feel like it, he always knew he only had to do one push-up to keep working toward that habit.
As you choose your 2018 New Year’s resolutions during these final days of 2017, go easy on yourself. Focus on the small stuff, make a plan, and be intentional. By this time next year, you’ll be amazed by how much you’ve achieved.