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New Year's Resolutions
People love making New Year's resolutions... even though we suck at them. According to WebMD, only 15% of people making resolutions stick with their goals for an entire year. That's a massive failure rate, especially when you consider that these are goals we set for ourselves. But, when you look at the challenges we set for the New Year, the problem is likely to be how the resolutions are made, not what we decide to change.
There are a few tricks from academia that can be used to increase our likelihood to stick with our goals throughout the year. Read on to learn how.
Make resolutions specific and actionable
According to the US government who apparently tracks this kind of thing (... that's creepy), the most common New Year's resolutions are:
- Drink Less Alcohol
- Eat Healthy Food
- Get a Better Education
(A full list of 13 resolutions can be found here.)
There's a big difference to the goals "work out more often", "get in shape" and "run on the treadmill for 40 minutes on my lunch-hour each week day". The first two are vague, open to interpretation, and way too easy; they're hard to fail at. The third goal is much more specific, but it's actually easier to achieve
Having a goal that can be measured is important. Psychologically, we need to be accountable to something; we need goals that we can fail at in order to succeed. Being specific and setting the goal now will help you combat decision fatigue.
Making long-term decisions
Decision fatigue is a real thing.
As explained by Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Columbia:
In five studies, participants who made a series of choices regarding consumer products, college courses, or course materials subsequently showed poorer self-regulation (measured in terms of task persistence, task performance, and pain tolerance), as compared to people who viewed or rated similar options without making choices.
(Click here for the full paper Decision Fatigue Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources —But So Does Accommodating to Unchosen Alternatives.)
You can avoid this problem by deciding now, in detail what you will change. Take the decision out of the process. Instead of reinventing your resolution every day, figure it out in advance. Then, all you have to do is stick to the plan.
In the example of the fitness goal, the variables of what (run) and when (40 minutes every weekday) and where (on a treadmill/at the gym) have been decided. You don't have to figure these things out every single day. You don't have to do the mental work every day. Specificity will be your secret weapon.
Making resolutions you'll stick to
What follows is a step-by-step approach to making resolutions. I've had great success with this approach, as have others. The first key is not to stress too much. There is no right or wrong here - the best plan is the plan you'll stick to.
Get a pen and paper. Don't use a do this on the computer; you'll want to be able to carry this in your purse or your wallet.
What do you want to change? What has been nagging away at you, causing self-doubt or insecurity? What would make you happier with you? Something that you really want to do will be easier to follow through on.
This is the mad lib portion of goal setting. Think of a personal attribute that you'd like to improve. Good examples would be:
Be more _____.
- hard working
Learn to _____.
- play the guitar
- fly a plane
- solve a rubix cube
- talk to men\women
- network within my industry
- get out of my comfort zone
These are just examples; anything you want to improve upon is worth making into a resolution. Take 5 minutes and really think about what you'd like to improve this year.
Make goals real by adding detail
Now that you have a goal or two, it's time to make measurable outcomes. Outcomes are like success markers; they're how we express our goals. The goal of "Learn to cook" and outcome of "cook the turkey and two sides for Thanksgiving dinner" articulate very different objectives. Without your outcome, you could consider your goal achieved by making EZ-Mac & Cheese.
Take the goal you've written down, and think about what moderate success would look like. Moderate success is important. None of us is going to master a skill in a year, but you want to set goals that are far enough away to require real work. You want to push yourself.
Some people will be more motivated if they have a performance to drive them (like providing the turkey on the big day), while other people prefer being accountable to themself (I'm in this group.) Think about what will keep you honest with yourself. It may be simple enough for you to share you resolution with a friend or loved-one and ask them to check-up on you.
Give yourself time to make the change
This is another common miss-step. It takes 3-4 weeks to create a new habit, and many people try to do too much at once. It's probably best to set 1-2 resolutions. If you're going to be ambitious and go above 5, make sure you're spaced out throughout the year. Think about not only how you'll accomplish your resolutions, but when.
(Remember, you can add to this list at any time.)
My new year's resolutions
- Take a photography class in January [completed January 4]
- Develop my writing by updating my blog weekly for the next 6 months
- Deadlift 400lbs [first attempted: January 9 (pulled it to knees and failed), second attempt: March 1]
- Stay overnight and explore 2 new cities this year [1/2 complete]
- Take a metalworking or glass blowing class and make at least one item to take home
- Solve a rubix cube without assistance
Make your goal ambitious, but achievable. Stretch yourself. It's amazing what you learn when you venture outside your comfort zone. What do you want to change this year?