We know this because statistics tell us. Nearly 40 percent of the population makes New Years resolutions. These aren’t new stats as they have stayed fairly constant for the past decade. Each year millions of us plan to change something in our behaviour, yet the research shows that most fail.
The most rigorous study of New Year’s resolutions, conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton, shows a steep drop off in how long New Year’s resolutions actually last. For some, this may shock you, but seventy-seven percent of the resolvers studied made it through a full week, then 55 percent stuck with their goals for a month. By June, six months into the New Year, only 40 percent of those who had made a New Years resolution were still sticking with the goal.
Given so many people make New Years resolutions every year, the researchers have learned a thing or two about what happens for those who go against the odds and succeed. Here we have shared with you the three key things you’ll need to stick to your newly created goals. Follow these three items and you will be able to distinguish yourself from the 60 percent of the people who have failed.
Make Your Goal Attainable
You never want to limit yourself by the goals you set, but when it comes to New Years resolutions you want to make sure you find the right balance. Setting them too high, for instance losing 50 pounds this year may be out of your reach. The flip side is don’t set them too low. If your New Years resolution is to lose 5 pounds this year, it’s tough to get excited and motivated about such a small goal.Making your resolutions manageable is the one you will succeed with. If you can, even set them up in parts so the greater sum of the resolution is a major change for you, but as you manage and progress through each part, the task and the change seems much less. Also, remember from a mental point of view it is much easier to commit to small-level change than a complete overhaul of your behaviours.
“When you set weight loss goals, you don’t really know how your body is going to react or what is going to be attainable,” says Lisa Ordonez, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Eller School of Business whose research focuses on goal-setting in organizations. “If you haven’t done it for a while, you need to do your research and revise your expectations.”
Another benefit of setting attainable goals: you can always up the ante. The person who commits to losing five pounds and succeeds can set another target, to lose a bit more weight. But the person who loses five pounds while committed to shedding 50 pounds, is still eons away from declaring a victory.
As with any goal you have to understand there is a risk of failure. Research shows people who have missed their targets in dieting, for example, become less likely to succeed in future attempts. Their belief in themselves dwindles and they essentially talk themselves into failure prior to even starting.
“Every time we fail, we damage our own self-esteem,” says Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. “We make ourselves less able to bounce back the next time. One thing we see is that, when people fail, they don’t blame the diet. They blame themselves. And that makes it hard to start again.”
Feel Free to Screw Up, It’s Okay
A few decades back, Polivy discovered what is arguably one of the best-named psychological phenomena: the “what the hell” effect.
She and her co-workers did a study where she gave dieters milkshakes before serving them a dish of ice cream. The milkshakes were of variable sizes; some dieters got big ones, others were tiny.
For dieters, you would think that those who got the larger milkshakes would eat less ice cream — they were, after all, trying to count calories. But Polivy found the opposite: those who had large milkshakes ate even more ice cream. The mentality seemed to be: my diet is already off the wagon, why not screw up a bit more?
“The research has been replicated fairly frequently,” Polivy says. “There seems to be this sense of, well, I ate something I shouldn’t, this day is ruined, I’ll just start again tomorrow, or next week, or next month.”
The fact is not everyone will start again. Sometimes the screw-up becomes the reason to say to hell with it, and give up on the entire diet. Polivy’s argument is that goals don’t have to work this way. We are all human and will make mistakes. Remember changing behaviour requires developing new habits and from time to time we will revert back to the old habit. Acknowledge the mistake and then get back on track, without guilt or worry. Learn from your mistake and then move forward.
Be Motivated and Committed
As we already mentioned, changing behaviour and habits is difficult. This is why unless we make the conscious effort to continue with the change until it becomes a new habit, we will fall back into our old routine.
Lisa Lahey, a Harvard professor and co-author of the book “Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization,” recommends looking at the concrete steps that will need to happen in order to achieve the changes that you’re looking for. What are the things that will be different about your life, and how can you manage those behaviours?
Take weight loss, for example, one thing that dieters sometimes struggle with is missing out on opportunities to eat with others. And this is a real fear, she says, of becoming disconnected from others as they try and achieve their goals.
Lahey recommends not giving up communal meals altogether but rather testing out how to best manage those situations.
“You don’t have to do the prima donna thing and order grilled chicken when everybody else is eating chicken parmesan,” Lahey says. “You can feel like you belong by eating less of your portion or maybe just deciding not to have bread. And gradually you learn how to balance.”