It’s all over the news: several recent studies have turned up similar findings: most people break their new year resolutions within the first month. ‘Why Your New Year Resolutions are Doomed to Fail’, blares one headline. ‘The Trouble with New Year Resolutions’, says another.
But – besides the fact that people are about as likely to stop making new year resolutions as they are to stop getting married (incidentally, the two institutions have a fairly similar success rate, around 20%) – experts say making resolutions is far from futile if you go about it in the right way. While a recent study of 3 000 subjects by a Bristol University professor, Richard Wiseman, revealed the dismal truth about how few managed to keep their new year resolutions, it also made some interesting discoveries about those who did stick to their intentions. Alter your strategy, say Wiseman and other experts, and you might find your goals easier to crack. Here are five key tips for keeping your resolutions this year.
Break it down
In Wiseman’s study, subjects who broke down their resolutions into micro-goals and gave themselves due credit when each was achieved had a success rate of roughly 35%.
‘Breaking your ultimate goal down into small, measurable steps makes it less daunting,’ says personal trainer Shelley Wolff. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight – a resolution that, according to research, tops most people’s new year bucketlists – she recommends setting weekly goals, tracking your progress, and rewarding yourself for every success. ‘If you do fall off the wagon, there’s no beating yourself up about it – that’s only likely to set you back further. Rather take stock of where you are and get back on track as soon as possible,’ she adds.
Another major reason that people fail in their endeavours to turn over a new leaf is that they set unrealistic targets, says Dr Arya Sharma of the Canadian Obesity Network. “What you often find is that people are ready to make changes, but that motivation is channelled into the wrong activity, or is aimed at achieving unrealistic and unsustainable goals. People try, it doesn’t work, and they simply give up,” he says.
Couples counsellor and corporate coach Mary Ovenstone recommends setting development goals that will make you continuously stretch and grow, keeping them just beyond your current state, but not so difficult that you will fail to meet them. ‘While the brain readily grows new neural networks as we think new thoughts and make new decisions, it takes longer to recover from what it registers as a failure than it does from successes,’ she says.
US entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, once said, ‘I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacations with better care than they plan their lives. Perhaps it’s because escape is easier than change.’ Wiseman also cautions that resolutions made on the spur of the moment (at 11.30pm on the night of the 31st, say) have a much greater chance of failing as they tend to be based on less authentic commitment than goals that are clearly thought through in advance. ‘Many of the most successful techniques involve making a plan and helping yourself stick to it,’ says Wiseman.
Being confident in your ability to meet your goals and focusing on the benefits associated with making the changes will also boost your chances of success, found Wiseman. Conversely, negative beliefs about the motivation or the self-control to stay on the straight and narrow tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.
Write it down
The written word is surprisingly powerful – studies have shown that people who wrote down their goals and the motivations behind them, and kept a day-by-day account of their progress were much more likely to keep their resolutions than those who did not.