How to Write New Year’s Resolutions that Will Stick

It’s that time of year again, when everybody sets a bunch of goals that will likely be broken or forgotten before the month is out. New Year’s Resolutions are written with the best of intentions but, many times, good intentions aren’t enough to actually bring on positive change. However, science has shown us that there are a few research-backed ways you can make your resolutions stick.

  1. Write SMART goals.
    Smart goals are those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based. Having goals that are specific and measurable make it easier to track your progress and hone in on exactly what it is you want to achieve. It is important that your goals are also both achievable and realistic, as choosing unattainable goals will automatically lead to failure or disappointment. Finally, by making your goals time-bound, you are holding yourself accountable for the achievement of the goal within the time period you set.
  2. Focus on one goal at a time. Even if you plan to work on a couple of goals over the course of a year, it is important to focus on one goal at a time. If you try to begin exercising, start eating right, find a new job, stop smoking, and become a vegetarian all at once you will immediately overload yourself and the stress of maintaining those goals will overwhelm and stress you to the point that you give up. By focusing in on one goal at a time, you are increasing your chances of success.
  3. Willpower is finite. Experiments have shown that willpower is a finite resource and that much like your muscles, your willpower can become fatigued over the course of the day. If you are trying to tackle too many goals, your willpower will drain that much quicker, making achievement of your goals that much harder. Say your goal is to start working out. To avoid a lack of willpower, you should try not to schedule workouts after mentally draining tasks. If you are mentally and physically drained from a day at work, you may not have the willpower to go for a run when you get home.
  4. Implement immediate consequences. Even if we know that eating poorly and sitting in front of the computer all day is unhealthy, we still tend to pay more attention to things that have more immediate consequences. It is easy to break a resolution when we know that doing so will not have any immediate negative repercussions. But, if you create some sort of negative consequence for breaking your resolution – say having to pay a family member a certain amount of money if you skip a workout – then you are more likely to hold yourself accountable for your actions.
  5. Reward yourself. Instituting negative consequences increase your likelihood of sticking to your resolutions, but it is also important to reward yourself for doing so. If there is an immediate benefit to doing something, we are more likely to do it. Research has shown that rewards are very effective when it comes to developing new habits. So after eating a healthy meal or completing a workout, you could reward yourself with computer or TV time. Over time the need for the incentive will decrease, as the new behavior becomes a reward in itself.