Ok, so now it’s the first week of January and the clock is ticking as you face the reality of actually keeping that New Year’s resolution. Erin Henshaw, an assistant psychology prof who specializes in cognitive behavior therapy, says that making these pledges is a good thing – it shows that we’re ready and willing to change. But sometimes we need a little help. Henshaw has some common-sense-yet-underutilized strategies that will help increase your rate of success.
Henshaw’s top tips for making (and keeping) those good intentions:
Make It Measurable
Create specific steps to support your larger goal. For instance, instead of, “I will run a marathon in October,” make your goal more attainable by adding short-term steps; “To run a marathon in October, I will run ten miles per week in January and February, and do a 5K race and up my distance to 20 miles per week in March, run a 10K in April,” and so on. Keeping these measurable, intermediate goals reinforces your sense of accomplishment and increases your sense of self-efficacy. (Self-efficacy is the confidence that you can change your behavior, which makes it more likely that you’ll follow through with your goal.)
Make It Reasonable
Start with a target that you can accomplish, then increase the goal once you’ve met your initial objective. To use our exercise metaphor, begin with running ten miles per week, then increase to 20 or 30 miles per week, rather then expecting that 20 or 30 mile-per-week mark right off the bat.
Provide Opportunities for Reward
Create a way to get positive feedback on your accomplishments; tell a friend (and make sure you get that pat on the back), keep a chart to mark your successes, or reward yourself with a small gift when you reach your targets.
Get Back on the Horse
Understand that you’re likely to make mistakes. Don’t let perfectionism stand in the way of achieving your long-term goal. If you miss a day of running, you haven’t failed your dream of running a marathon, you’ve just taken a misstep. And remember those long-term goals are big-picture things – the small details of a skipped run here or there won’t make a difference in the end.
Though there are a lot of statistics out there that bemoan the lack of successful New Year’s resolutions, there are a surprising number of resolutions that “stick.” Henshaw adds, “While most New Year’s resolutions are not successful, for a small percentage of people (around ten percent or so), they can lead to lasting change, even a big change such as quitting smoking.” There’s a reason we make these personal pledges. Though not everyone will achieve their goals, they can still make significant strides towards their objectives, while those who do reach their goals can celebrate a job well done.