How You Can Stick To Your New Year’s Resolutions According To Science
Have better luck with following through (for real) this time
A year being over means a chance at a do-over.
#Goodbye2017 and #LetsDoThis2018? Who wouldn’t be pumped? And so, we start jotting down a list of things we want to accomplish or habits we want to kick. We write “15 pounds lighter at the end of 2018” or “save at least 50,000 pesos.” Targets look simple on paper. If New Year’s resolutions were in fact that simple though, we’d all be fitter, richer or whatever else it was we swore to ourselves we’d be more of by now.
In the height of all the excitement that comes with the New Year, it’s easy to start out with ideal scenarios. At this point in time, you are laser-focused. Then life comes knocking with a gentle reminder: “Mamaya na ‘yan. Ito muna.”
It’s the celebratory dinner with your colleagues that breaks your clean eating streak. It’s the yosi break you couldn’t resist during hell week that snowballs and leaves you swearing you’ll try quitting next year instead. It’s what happens when Netflix just looks way more appealing than the burpees you said you’d do—and this just so happens to be the scenario four weeks in a row.
In a world where everything can be planned—down to the minute, precisely and flawlessly—where fatigue doesn’t exist or moments of weakness are unheard of, yes, resolutions can definitely work. But here’s the reality: When it comes to making resolutions, we tend to overpromise and then underperform. The culprit behind this being the events no one can foresee or troubleshoot in advance. And the more you stumble along the way and feel you’re back to square one every time, the easier it is to feel discouraged. “New Year, new me” doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it when you start in July, does it?
Everyone has had their own failed New Year’s resolution story, but all hope is not lost! Take a look at these habit-forming methods backed by science that could be your ticket to finally sticking to your New Year’s resolutions.
What Is Your Why?
Before jumping into the (many) outcomes you are hoping for this year, scale it back and focus on your “why.” Why is it that you want to lose 10 pounds anyway? Why is it that you want to make it a point to get eight hours of sleep this time?
Focusing on your “why” is an opportunity for you to get a crystal-clear idea of what exactly motivates you. Most importantly, it allows you to identify your purpose.
Perhaps the reason you’re set on getting those eight hours of shuteye, for example, is because you’ve always felt you’ve been neglecting your health; you were just too distracted by external stimuli to admit it. This realization alone can open other doors you might want to explore.
Write A Personal Mission Statement
Take your cue from Stephen Covey and his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and begin with the end in mind.
Now that you have a better picture of your purpose and what motivates you, how do you intend on using these as the compass and the tools to take on your resolutions? William Arruda, author of Ditch, Dare, Do: 3D Personal Branding for Executives shared this template with Fast Company: write down the value you create + who you’re creating it for + the expected outcome.
One Big Goal First, Smaller Goals Second
It’s okay to dream big so long as you have progress markers to guide your way. The dream can be abstract, but the progress markers should always focus on the physically achievable and the quantitative. Your one big goal, for example, could be get fit and sexy like Megan Fox; your smaller goals, then, could be: go to Elorde for boxing twice a week, set 7pm as your cut-off for dinner and the like.
“The answer is to create what I call micro quotas and macro goals,” says Gregory Ciotti. “Your goals should be the big picture items that you wish to someday accomplish, but your quotas, are the minimum amounts of work that you must get done every single day to make the bigger goal a reality. Quotas make each day approachable, and your goals become achievable because of this.”
Checklists Aren’t All That
AKA “habits, not items.”
Focus your energy on developing a habit instead of working on single things like they’re items on a shopping list. Crossing out a line on a checklist is designed to give you a rush, a sense of accomplishment, but unless these short-term to-do items truly contribute to your bigger picture, they work in the same way as Band-Aid solutions do.
Reward Systems Are Overrated
Positive reinforcement is effective, but there’s a flaw in the system.
Consider this: If you take on something in keeping with your New Year’s resolution (something that’s supposed to make you a better person), shouldn’t the mere act be the reward in itself?
Author Jonah Berger makes an excellent point in his book, Invisible Influence: Why do parents try to persuade their kids to eat their veggies by saying they get ice cream if they finish their greens? This type of conditioning makes ice cream the reward and tells the children that eating veggies is something they have to endure to get it. Why is the end goal positioned as a challenge, a sacrifice or a necessary pain that comes before the pleasure?
Enter: Negative Reinforcement
This might be one of the rare instances where negative reinforcement is okay to use.
If one of your New Year’s resolutions in to give up fast food, for example, make a deal with yourself and get a friend involved. One way you can go about this is to swear to pay him P2,000 every time you cave and “treat” yourself to your two-piece Chicken Joy with extra gravy (aka your longtime love). Think P2,000 is steep? Then stick to your resolution so you never have to give your hard-earned money away. Simple.
Yes to the Buddy System
Now that we’ve made mention of getting your friends involved…
Gather your friends round and compare notes. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions in common? Make it a point to take these on together.
A study published by Psychological Science found that “people with low self-control could relieve a lot of their self-control struggles by being with an individual who helps them.” Other studies support this and found that exercising with a friend, for example, is the best way to stick to a workout.