Happy New Year! Here, how to make resolutions you can keep—and the top reasons they fail.
About half of us make New Year’s resolutions every year, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, yet research shows less than 10 per cent of us actually achieve our goals.
The most popular resolutions we mostly fail at include losing weight, exercising, stopping smoking, improving money-management skills and reducing debt.
“The thing is, will power alone often isn’t enough,” says Tim Pychyl, Professor of Psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa and the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. “We have to have a bunch of strategies to prime the pump to get us going. It’s not just one thing that’s making us fail.”
Most resolutions tend to fall by the wayside, Tim says, because people don’t bring deep ‘resolve’ to their resolutions. “In philosophy, the notion of resolve means you bring your whole world to it, yet waiting for January to make resolutions is really just culturally-prescribed procrastination.”
1. Be specific about your goal: Instead of having broad goals, make a detailed implementation plan. For example, don’t say ‘I’m going to go to the gym more often,’ say ‘I’m going to the gym three times a week and right after work’. “Make concrete plans, not abstract plans, so they’ll have more urgency,” Tim suggests. “The more specific you can be, the more accountable you’ll be and the less wiggle room you’ll have.”
2. Drop the word ‘try’: If you’re using the ‘T-word’ you’re already building in an excuse to fail and overriding the ‘resolve’ in resolution. Instead of saying you’re going ‘to try to exercise more’ or ‘try to eat less’, say ‘I’m going to walk every week night right after dinner, or ‘I’m only eating dessert on Sundays’.
4. Get a friend to join you: “If you want to up the ante, involve other people in your plans,” Tim suggests. “If you make a commitment to someone else you’re less likely to let them down, even if you don’t feel like doing it.”
5. Use ‘extended will’: That’s the term Tim uses to describe setting the stage for success. For example, if your goal is to ride an exercise bike at 6:30 a.m. every day, have your exercise outfit set out so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up. If your resolution means you’re going to have to get up earlier in the morning, don’t have your alarm (and that tempting snooze button) within arm’s reach of the bed, instead put it on your dresser so you have to get up to turn it off.
6. Just get started: “Research shows that once we get started our perspective of the task changes a great deal,” says Tim. “And those feelings that we really don’t want to do it tend to pass quite quickly.”