New Years is an ideal time to make changes in your life, although it can feel overwhelming for some people. This is because a lot of people make resolutions but then fall short to meet them. According to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, 80 percent of people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions.
“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”Edith Lovejoy Pierce
Are you one of the people who are excited about making positive changes in the new year? But, do you usually fail in sticking to your New Year’s resolutions?
I’m sure you’ve been there and here’s how you are going to be successful in 2020.
1. Write intentions
One way to look at making a New Year’s Resolution is to reframe it and call it an intention.
Intentions are a lot easier to incorporate in your life. In The Power of Intention, Dr. Wayne Dyer defines intention as “a strong purpose or aim, accompanied by a determination to produce a desired result.” An intention is a way of life or something that you actively work to manifest in your life.
For example, one intention that I set for myself every year is “Let go of whatever does not serve me.” So when I find myself ruminating about a situation and feeling frustrated, angry or hurt about it, I remind myself about my intention of letting it go because the thought or situation is not serving me. Alexandra Nicewicz Carroll wrote an interesting article called “Drop the Resolution and Live With Intention” on Huffpost that I really liked about this topic.
A good way to figure out how to set an intention is to ask yourself the following questions: What particular areas of growth would you like to have in your life? What do you want more of in your life?
2. Use SMART goals
So instead of New Year’s Resolutions, set SMART goals that help you be successful.
As a licensed clinical social worker, I routinely help people set and achieve their goals. Even I myself set goals all the time. This blog is a great example of a goal that I set and achieved.
What is a SMART goal? The acronym stands for:
Specific (clear-cut, defined, exact)
Measurable (quantitative, results-based)
Achievable (attainable, realistic)
Relevant (reasonable and aligns with personal goals)
Time bound (deadline driven)
Research indicates that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them. As a licensed clinical social worker, I see a lot of my clients give up during the process of trying to achieve their resolutions because they get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results.
It’s helpful to remember that SMART goals work and if you persevere, you will achieve what you desire. If you’re interested in reading more about SMART goals, check out this article “How to Make Your Goals Achievable.”
How to use SMART goals
One of the things most people want to do in the New Year is to lose weight.
Can you see the problem with that goal?
The reason it’s usually hard to lose weight is that you’re not being specific about how much weight you want to lose, by when you want to lose it and how you’re actually going to lose weight.
I have been a member of the YMCA for over a decade, and every January I see the same pattern. All of a sudden there are hoards of people who join and start going to the gym.
Since I’ve been going to the YMCA for a long time, I’m familiar with the faces of the “regulars” and I can see who the new members are. The fitness classes that I usually attend are all of a sudden full and there’s no room for those of us who go regularly.
I welcome people who want to join a gym and start being active, so if you want to join a gym, by all means, join a gym.
But consider that joining a gym will not immediately help you lose weight, you have to be very specific on how you’re going to lose weight. Oh yeah, you know those new YMCA gym members? They stop coming around February because they didn’t set SMART goals.
I’m not an expert on weight loss nor am I a physician, physical trainer or dietician so I will not be able to give you any suggestions on how to lose weight. But I can tell you how to properly set goals and achieve them. If you are seriously considering weight loss as a goal, I strongly suggest that you consult your physician before starting any major physical activity.
Be Specific, Measurable and Time Bound
Rather than say “Lose weight,” you need to be specific and say “I want to lose 5 pounds by March 5th.”
Do you see the difference between the first and second goal?
The first goal “Lose weight” is general and the other one is specific with the amount of weight and the time you want to lose the weight by. You are much more likely to stick to this goal because you can now measure and celebrate your progress.
Make it Achievable and Result Based
What makes a goal even better is to make it achievable and result oriented.
When you make a grandiose goal like “Be skinny,” it is hard to achieve and you are much more likely to be disappointed when you don’t achieve this goal because it is too unrealistic and vague. I really liked this article “Setting Realistic VS Unrealistic Goals: What You Need to Know” from Stunning Motivation which explained the difference between setting realistic versus unrealistic goals.
Instead, set a SMART goal that is realistic, achievable and result based. For the weight loss goal, it is better to say “I will lose 5 pounds by March 5th by going to the gym three times a week and hiring a personal trainer.”
“SMART is an effective tool that provides the clarity, focus and motivation you need to achieve your goals. It can also improve your ability to reach them by encouraging you to define your objectives and set a completion date.”Mind Tools “How to Make your Goals Achievable“
When you make your goal SMART, it is much more likely to be successful because you are clear on what you want, why you want it and how you are going to achieve it.
3. Give Yourself Rewards
A few years ago, the YMCA wanted to encourage their members to workout during the holiday season. To motivate their members, the YMCA handed out a sticker every time they came in. Members were able to add their stickers on their calendars posted on a large wall. Gradually over the holiday season, you saw your stickers increase. Once you earned 12 stickers on your calendar, you entered it in a raffle to earn prizes.
This might sound silly, but it actually worked. It worked so well that I continue this activity to this day. I love earning a sticker every time I work out.
I loved that the YMCA promoted and motivated exercise in this manner. If you recall, in kindergarten or first grade, you received a sticker by your teacher for achieving your reading or math goals. The sticker, however small, is the immediate reward.
Giving someone a reward for a good behavior is based on something in positive psychology called “Positive Reinforcement” which is based on operant conditioning theory of human behavior.
So you have to positively reinforce yourself by rewarding your new behavior. If you don’t reward yourself, you will have a harder time continuing with the new behavior.
4. Celebrate your milestones
Weight loss or any type of significant goal takes a long time to achieve. People think that, “Hey if I start going to the gym this week, I’m going to lose a pound.”
Again, I’m not a physician or weight loss expert, but there’s a lot that goes into 1 pound of weight loss. Realistically, it takes time to lose weight or make any significant change.
So don’t delay gratification until you achieve your over-arching goal, instead, celebrate your milestones and give yourself weekly rewards for making progress.
I give myself a sticker for every time I workout, and when I achieve my weekly fitness goal of exercising 5 days a week, I treat myself to a massage. When I work out 5 days a week for 1 month (which is my ultimate goal), then I treat myself to a pedicure.
What is a weekly reward you can give yourself for working towards your goal?
5. Find an accountability buddy
The best way to hold yourself accountable is to tell someone about your goal. And not just the general goal, but the SMART goal that you have set.
You don’t just tell anybody about this goal. It’s best to tell someone that you trust, can confide in, and rely on.
Ask that person to hold you accountable in a thoughtful, compassionate and understanding way.
You don’t want someone to make you feel badly about not attaining your goal, but rather to ask you “Hey, how’s your weight loss plan going? Are you still going to the gym three times a week? If not, what’s holding you back?”
When you have an “accountability buddy,” you’re far more likely to achieve your goal because you know that someone is going to ask you questions about it. You usually want to honor what you say you’re going to do, so by telling someone your goal, you will be more committed to follow through with it.
6. Stay flexible & be persistent
You might need to adjust your goal along the way.
Sometimes you set a goal and you are working towards it. You are rewarding yourself, not delaying your gratification and your friend is holding you accountable.
However, you might find yourself in a position where the goal you have originally set becomes unachievable.
For example, you wanted to lose 5 pounds by March 5th, but instead your progress was slower than expected.
You find that by March 1st, you won’t be able to achieve your weight loss goal. You may feel like you are going to fail, but instead of giving up, you have two options.
Option #1: You’re happy with what you’ve achieved since you’ve been exercising regularly. You have more energy, are sleeping and eating better. So you decide to celebrate your accomplishment and maintain your weight.
Option #2: You are happy with your progress but want to achieve your end goal so you stay persistent and set a new a SMART goal.
Whatever the case may be, don’t give up because you haven’t achieved the goal in the time frame you set. Re-assess and be flexible with yourself and you are more likely to be successful in the future.
This year, abandon your New Year’s Resolution in favor of setting an intention or a SMART goal, which are effective ways to achieve what you desire.
Don’t delay your gratification until you reach your overarching goal. Instead, reward yourself regularly for meeting your milestones. Share your goal with someone that can support and hold you accountable.
Be flexible and acknowledge that it takes time to achieve your goals. Nobody is perfect, and even I don’t always achieve my goals on the first try. It’s important to assess your progress and re-adjust your goal, if needed, along the way.
I know change is hard for all of us. You should check out my article “Why is change so hard?” It gives some good insight into the topic and what you can do to get comfortable with change.
What experiences have you had setting New Year’s Resolutions? Did you continue to pursue them after one month? Was it easier for you to set goals and intentions instead? I’m interested and excited to hear about your experiences and what has worked for you.