By Tracey Dowdy
If you’re like many of your fellow Americans, along with the frantic pace of the holidays comes the quiet determination to turn over a new leaf and start fresh in January. Forty percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions ranging from losing weight, getting fit, being more fiscally responsible, and quitting smoking.
Of those forty percent, research has found that only 75% keep the resolution past the first week, 71% past two weeks, and after one month, there’s only 64% hanging in there. By the time June rolls around, only 46% are still plugging away. That’s less than half of the original group. Ultimately, only 8% of those who make resolutions actually achieve them.
So what’s the secret? How do some manage to hang in there while others fade out so quickly? The answer can be found in science. Dr. Michal Ann Strahilevitz says that most resolutions fall into one of four categories – self-care, giving more, accomplishing more, and enjoying more. “If you want to maximize both your short-term joy and your long-term sense of having a meaningful life, you want to make sure to move your life in a direction where you have a nice balance of all four categories,” she says.
The key, Dr. Strahilvitz says, is to be clear about your objectives. “For all of the above categories, make sure to translate your goals into concrete, measurable objectives, so you know when you have hit them and when you have not. Make sure your objectives are realistic.”
So how do we do that? Strahilivitz offers these practical suggestions for turning resolutions into measurable achievement.
Start by writing down your resolution. Dr. Gail Matthews, at the Dominican University in California, found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. The simple act of writing down what you’d like to achieve pushes you to think strategically, ask yourself questions, and to come up with a plan to make it happen.
Be specific. Vague resolutions like “I’d like to lose weight,” or I’d like to get out of debt are weak, and likely to fail – quickly. By being specific – “I’d like to lose 50 lbs. this year,” or “I’m going to pay off my VISA bill by June,” are more likely to succeed. Why? Because you’ve clearly defined your objective and can easily discern when you’re getting off-track.
Be accountable. It’s easy to blow off your goals and give up if you’re the only one in on the plan. Get an accountability partner and check in with them regularly. Accountability is highly motivational.
Link your goals to positive motivation and happiness. Strahilivitz suggests writing down three reasons you want to achieve your goal, identify the positive emotions that will follow, and share it with someone you trust.
Likewise, she suggests identifying three negatives that will result if you fail to follow through, both tangibly and emotionally. “I’ll still be in debt, struggling financially, and won’t be able to travel as I’d like. This will leave me frustrated, discouraged, and embarrassed.
Reward yourself along the way. Don’t wait until the goal is met to celebrate – celebrate milestones along the way. Go get a massage when you’ve lost those first ten pounds, splurge on a fancy coffee when you’ve made that first big dent in your debt, or simply take an afternoon to yourself.
Conversely, Strahilavitz suggests adding a little pain to failure. Personally, she committed to working out six days a week, and if she failed, she had to donate $100 to a charity whose values are contrary to her own. It’s been highly effective in keeping her motivated, and so far, she’s avoided donating.
Finally, if you falter, get back up and try again. Success is less about getting it right the first time and more about a series of do-overs. Never let a setback define or derail you.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.