5 Secrets for a New Year’s Resolution that LastsNone By Homaira Kabir
It’s that time of the year again. Amidst the shopping and the festivities, there is a New Year’s resolution gaining resolve somewhere in the back of your mind. “I really need to…” ends with all kinds of goals from weight loss and fitness to organization and improving finances.
In the meantime, you’re likely splurging on all of the above, awaiting the magical hour to undergo your metamorphosis. It’s our human need for novelty that makes us believe that a new year will be just the catalyst we need for lasting transformation.
Sadly, that's often not the case. Once the novelty wears off—in as little as a week into January—our motivation begins to dwindle bit by bit. A quarter of us can't stick with our resolutions for seven measly days, while almost half of us have given up by the end of the month. And yet, 20% of us do persist—not just past the initial week or the first month, but well into the third year of follow-up. What do these people do differently? And what can we learn from them so that this New Year’s resolution is one that lasts?
Research on Self-Determination Theory shows that feeling competent in achieving our goals is one of the biggest predictors of success. The most successful people set goals that are tied to their strengths and within their boundaries of competence. This means that although goals need to be challenging, they should not be so far beyond our competence that the mere anxiety of achieving them scares us off. Losing 50 pounds in 4 months is not going to get you far—other than leading to feelings of failure. Losing 10 pounds and keeping it off all year is a far more achievable goal that will make you feel good about yourself and build your competence towards more challenging goals.
Own Your Goal
The meaning we attribute to our goals is one of the key criteria that will keep us going well after the initial euphoria wears off. Such goals are called intrinsic goals—ones that are driven by our inherent human need for growth, connection or for making a difference in some way. Sadly, our goals are often the result of familial or societal expectations, even though we're often unaware of it. This doesn't necessarily mean that you let go of the goal of improving your finances. Just remember to connect it to a deeper desire—to provide a better life for your family or to move towards your professional vision.
Break It Down
New Year’s resolutions are rarely small tweaks in our lifestyle that result in subtle but long-term changes. They are more like the Herculean projects that are supposed to propel us into upward spirals of growth. However good our intentions, approaching something this enormous can be daunting unless we're able to work on it in small bites that we can handle. Organizing your garage is great, but unless you can break it down into 2-hour long weekly sessions of clearing the shelves, getting rid of all the junk, buying organization containers etc., you will only keep piling it up with additional stuff you don’t need. Breaking down tasks creates a self-propelling momentum as we see ourselves moving steadily towards our goals.
Visualize the Obstacles
When we come up against challenges, many of us lose the resolve to continue. The reason is that we have spent much of our time visualizing the success of our goals and barely any time thinking about the obstacles on the way. Psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen of New York University and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, says that such a pie-in-the-sky approach is often disconnected with reality and doesn't equip us to handle challenges when they arise. Having a clear If/then plan—as in “If I’m at a party, then I’ll choose fruit at the dessert table” can go a long way in priming the unconscious mind towards helpful behaviors.
Focus on the Feeling
It’s all well and good (and very important) to connect our goals with something meaningful in the long-term. But we also have a limbic brain that can't deal with the abstract and looks for instant gratification. When the rewards of our goals seem too far in the future, many of us can lose the motivation to stay the course. Researcher Michelle Segar, author of No Sweat, says that we need to make our meaning immediate so that we can also feel good in the moment.
Rewarding ourselves is a great way of doing so. The good news is that you don't have to head to the mall every time you take a step in the direction of your goals. Something as simple as scheduling the behavior in your planner and then ticking it off provides your brain with about the same dopamine kick as an expensive purchase, with the additional benefit of making the behavior habitual.
If you’re tired of failed New Year’s resolutions of years past, take heart. Research shows that people who actually make resolutions are more likely to commit to their changes than those who just try and change. With the right approach to your goals and the journey towards them, you can rest assured that you won’t be making the same New Year’s resolution this time next year!
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach and a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist whose practice is founded on the science of positive psychology. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. To sign up to her free course on Finding Your Life’s Direction, visit her at www.homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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