The intent to keep one’s New Year resolution only lasts two to four months before goal-setters give up or forget about it, according to Forbes Health survey findings. Just under one in 10 (8%) say their resolutions have lasted a month, 21.9% report two months, 22.2% report three months and 13.1% say their resolutions have lasted four months in the past.
“We often fail in achieving and keeping New Year’s resolutions because they focus on a specific outcome (e.g., a precise body weight),” says Dr. Romanoff. When individuals focus on a particular outcome, it can be challenging to persevere in your efforts if results are not immediately apparent, she explains. “Goals take time, and many folks become discouraged and eventually relent before attaining the goal.”
Experts agree that setting resolutions that align with one’s personal values (instead of a specific outcome) can serve as a great source of motivation. Additionally, setting short-term goals to stay motivated along the way toward bigger-picture resolutions can be helpful. To help individuals stick to their goals, our experts offer the following advice.
Link Your Goals to Your Values
“Values are never actually achieved, rather they operate as a compass, constantly informing and guiding our behaviors,” says Dr. Romanoff. Instead of focusing on a specific number on the scale, she suggests using your specific motivation to lose weight—whether it be improved health or self-esteem—as a value to incentivize your goal. This can help ground your resolutions in purpose and contextualize them in a meaningful way, Dr. Romanoff says.
Create Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
One of the biggest factors that lead people to abandon their resolutions is setting goals that are unrealistic, according to Dr. Romanoff. “Divide your goals between those that can be accomplished either in the long or short term,” she suggests, adding that, “creating an action plan that links the long-term goal with the near-term achievable and realistic goals will ensure success.”
Jeff Temple, Ph.D., professor, psychologist and associate dean of research at UTHealth’s School of Behavioral Health Sciences and Forbes Health Advisory Board member suggests setting goals that are specific and measurable. “You’re more likely to succeed if your goal is: ‘I want to lose one pound per month for six months’ as opposed to: ‘I want to lose weight,’” he says. It may also be helpful to enlist an encouraging, non-critical friend to keep you accountable, he says.
Dr. Ho recommends starting with small changes to help build confidence. “Things that you can shift in your habits a little at a time, beginning with something you can accomplish within a few minutes to 15 minutes a day,” she says. Some small changes Dr. Ho suggests are taking a walk around the block during your lunch break, tracking how much water you drink, doing a five to 10 minute yoga or stretch routine upon waking up and engaging in a hobby you enjoy for 10 to 15 minutes like knitting, playing music or drawing.
Make a Plan to Overcome Obstacles
Dr. Ho suggests assessing potential barriers and making a plan to navigate those barriers before they happen. “This involves visualizing the barriers that might get in the way of your goals, and then making ‘if/then’ plans for each barrier,” she says. For example, if you’re tempted to skip a morning workout, put on your running shoes and drive to the gym anyway, “because once you get to the gym, you’re much more likely to get out of the car and go in, at least for a few minutes,” notes Dr. Ho.
Be Flexible—and Reward Yourself
Dr. Romanoff encourages individuals to have an easy grasp on their resolutions, and let go of any rigid thinking around them, as accommodating change and being adaptive can help resolutions stick.
Another key to sticking with your New Year’s resolutions? Rewarding yourself for steps taken toward achieving your goals. “This will shape and reinforce improvement and sustain motivation,” says Dr. Romanoff.
To do this, Dr. Romanoff recommends setting measurable benchmarks toward your goal. “For example, if you walk 5,000 steps daily in the next month, buy yourself special headphones to use on your walks. If you exercise four days per week for the next three weeks, buy yourself a new workout set you’ve been eyeing.”
Dr. Romanoff also suggests giving yourself a reward that extends beyond purchasing something, but rather focuses on how you spend your time or involves a valued activity. As a reward for making progress toward your resolution, Dr. Romanoff recommends giving yourself a spa night, eating your favorite dessert or giving yourself permission to have a lazy morning in bed.
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