How to actually stick with your New Year's resolution

by Marc Wilson / 06 January, 2019
Smart goals: set yourself up for success in the New Year. Photo/Getty Images

Smart goals: set yourself up for success in the New Year. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - how to stick with new years resolution

Making New Year’s resolutions is easy, sticking to them is another matter entirely.

You did, didn’t you? You made a New Year’s resolution again. I know this because I can read your mind … Actually, because the base rate of resolution setting is so high, I could tell a room of 100 people that they’d made a resolution and 80% would think I was psychic.

More than half of all resolutions are health related, so almost half of my 100-strong room would gasp in amazement if I proclaimed to all that I knew they’d made a resolution about their health.

Unfortunately, if you are one of the 80% who made at least one resolution, the odds are fair that you’ve already broken it – about a third don’t survive into the second week of January. And, only 16 people from my room of 100 are still going after three months. Women and older people have an even lower resolution survival rate.

One mistake we make is to assume that the start of a year is somehow special, and that the power of January 1 will protect us from failure in a way that July 17 or October 12 won’t. It’s great to be optimistic, but you also have to be pragmatic and make a plan. Don’t feel bad if you’ve already broken that promise to yourself: aim for “good”, not “perfect”. If your resolution is something that really matters to you, then reaffirm that goal now, but set yourself up for success this time.

Consider your environment – it cues a lot of our behaviours. It’s easier to give up smoking on holiday than it is at work when the smoko bell rings. Change your environment – replace the habit you want to break with another, desirable, one. Before the bell tolls, set off for a walk.

Many parents will have heard of Smart goals. These are often applied to school homework, but can easily work for resolutions. Make your resolution specific – not “I am going to get fit”. What does that mean? Make it measurable – what are your resolution KPIs? If you are going to get fit, break this down into specific targets: walk for 30 minutes a day or, even better, 30 minutes increasing to 45 minutes in three months. Tick them off on your star chart so you can measure your progress.

They have to be attainable. This is one reason older people’s resolutions fail more than others. They often involve unreasonable goals – sure, you see stories of the 80-year-old fella who ran a marathon, but that’s not feasible for everyone.

I cannot stress enough the importance of making your goals relevant. Research shows that people who enjoy pursuing goals are much more likely to achieve them, and you’re more likely to enjoy things when they’re relevant. People who want to get fit don’t meet their goals unless they enjoy the process. Reward yourself – use your star chart, or, perhaps, something more relevant to a grown-up.

Another mistake is that people set nebulous goals that aren’t time-based. Saying, “I’m going to get fit this year,” is too open-ended. Set measurable sub-goals that you can put a timetable to.

It’s not Smart per se, but I’m going to suggest you take care in how you think of your goals. Rather than think about avoiding being unhealthy, frame your goals about getting to somewhere – to being healthy. I wonder if this is part of the challenge that women face in meeting resolutions – internalising the avoidance of something negative, rather than approaching something positive.

My pre-New Year’s resolution was to write a column about New Year’s resolutions. I can tick that one off and feel self-righteous.

This article was first published in the January 5, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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