Another new year…another set of resolutions. Will you be one of the eight percent (no kidding!) of Americans who actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions? Obviously it isn’t easy, but there are things you can do to increase your chances of success.
Psychologist Paul Marciano is the author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, and he specializes in the area of behavior modification and engagement. In a recent issue of Forbes magazine, he offered these seven keys to achieving your goals:
- Make your goals specific. People proclaim, “I’m finally going to get in shape.” But what does that actually mean? Do you intend to reach a certain weight? Or body fat percentage? Do you want to run three miles without rest? Maybe be able to do ten pull-ups? Dr. Marciano is a fan of the classic goal system that makes goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART).
- Measure progress. “If you can measure it, you can change it” is a fundamental principal of psychology. These feedback loops will be a source of motivation as you reflect on where you started and where you are. They will also help you to know when you are hitting a plateau or slipping backward, so you can adjust your efforts.
- Be patient. Progress is seldom linear. Some people will see rapid gains only to hit resistance later in their efforts. For others, initial progress may be painfully slow but then they suddenly achieve rapid breakthroughs. Making lasting changes takes time.
- Share your goals with friends and family. Social support is critical. Yes, it takes some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at, but to dramatically increase your odds of success you’ll want support from those around you. One of the most effective things you can do is to get an “accountability partner”, someone who checks in with you daily or weekly. It’s easy to break a promise to yourself, but far harder to admit it to a friend.
- Schedule it. Have you ever said you can’t “find the time” to do something. Nobody finds time; we choose time. We all choose to spend our time the way we do—whether that’s eating junk food or going to a spin class. Make your new goals a priority and actually schedule them into your calendar. If you have a fitness goal, schedule recurring time blocks for your daily workouts. Want to declutter? Schedule time on your calendar to clean out your closet or garage. Treat these New Year Resolutions appointments just like they were scheduled doctor appointments. You rarely reschedule your doctor. You should treat this time the same way. That which is scheduled gets done.
- Something is better than nothing. Are you guilty of “all or nothing” thinking? Do you ever think, “Well, I might as well get dessert since I already ate those French fries?” And then, “I blew my diet last night so I’ll just restart it next week.” Dr. Marciano says the difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge. If you don’t have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20 minutes you can. If you stumble out of bed and don’t want to do 20 minutes on the treadmill, lace up your sneakers and do five minutes (and you just might find you do another 15 minutes once the first five are out of the way). Dr. Marciano says, “Any effort towards your goal is better than no effort.”
- Get up, when you slip up. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi said, “It isn’t whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.” Resiliency is paramount. Don’t turn temporary failures into total meltdowns or excuses for giving up. Instead, just acknowledge the mistake and recommit to the path towards the goal.
“Achieving your goals isn’t about willpower,” says Dr. Marciano. It’s about developing the right skills, executing strategies, and having the patience that inevitably lead to success.