Whether it’s to work out more, drink more water or procrastinate less, many people enter the New Year with goals to improve themselves. The high hopes that come with the start of January, though, tend to wear off once everyone has returned to their regular schedules after the holidays.
According to a Jan. 7, 2018, Business Insider article titled “The psychology behind why we’re so bad at keeping New Year’s resolutions” by Lindsay Dodgson, 80 percent of people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by the second week of February, which is evident in enrollment at gyms during that time.
Marysue Edidin, membership experience supervisor at Foglia YMCA in Lake Zurich, said that membership goes up dramatically in January, crowding up their facilities, but levels out around February. This aligns with the trend that resolutions related to health are most common but have a very high failure rate.
If you have lost your spark for self-improvement like many have, look back on the goals you had in January and try it again with a clear mindset, realistic ideals and a well-constructed plan.
One at a time
Humans are notorious for being lousy multi-taskers, and the same goes for goals.
“We all usually make a laundry list for everything we want to do differently and then attempt to change them all at once. That’s a recipe for failure. You can basically do one at a time. If you’re going to go to the gym, that’s the one thing you’re going to do,” Christine Whelan, a public sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in an interview with the Washington Post on March 3, 2015.
Once all your focus is placed onto that one goal, it allows you to make more specific, measurable goals you can actually achieve.
Don’t set yourself up to disappoint yourself– it can be very discouraging to not reach a goal. Managing your expectations is key; you can’t expect yourself to read for an hour every day if, before, you didn’t ever read outside of school. Instead, start small, and work your way up. Begin with 10 minutes, and then graduate to 20 and beyond.
Marisa Graham, school psychologist, said rather than have one major goal for the entire year, it can be beneficial to “[look] at it in terms of smaller goals over the course of the year.” This can keep you from becoming overwhelmed and possibly quitting.
Create a routine
If your goal is an action to take every day, week, etc., doing it at a particular time or part of your schedule every single time will invoke a habit. Humans are habitual creatures, so if you want to stretch more often, for example, make a point of doing it right when you finish practice every day. After some time and a solid commitment to your plan, your new habit should become automatic, just like brushing your teeth.
To fit new habits into busy schedules, Whelan said, “To make a change in our behavior means we’re adding something, or subtracting something, and we have to figure out what that is. If I said ‘I want to go to the gym for an hour three times a week,’ the first thing I’d have to figure out is what am I not going to be doing during those hours.”
Keep yourself accountable
Keeping track of your progress, as well as your missteps, is key to moving forward. Document every day you do or do not progress, whether it be through an app, journal or calendar. That way you see clearly if you’re doing well, and if you’re not, make changes accordingly. It can also be very motivating to check a box when you’ve completed the task at hand– and make a note of your inevitable errors.
“Look, you will mess up and slip on your habits. And it’s OK. The rule of thumb is that when you fail, you get back on the horse immediately so that you never miss twice,” said Andrew Ferebee, author of the Feb. 13, 2018, Forbes article “The Science Behind Adopting New Habits (And Making Them Stick).”
It’s hard to stick to a goal if you see no benefit in the moment, so it is a good idea to implement a form of rewards system.
“Most addictive and destructive habits have a built-in reward system that requires little or no input from you… On the other hand, many positive habits, such as exercise, meditation, focused work, and healthy eating don’t have immediately obvious rewards,” Ferebee stated.
Therefore, rewarding yourself in the short term will keep you motivated to work toward the end goal.
Remember, it’s a process
Though several people claim that the 90-day rule marks when a habit has fully formed, this varies widely depending on how major your goal is. There’s no magic number or formula to get it right.
“It’s important to keep in mind that progress isn’t always a straight upward trend line, so when you do something against your resolution, it helps to look at it as a small blip rather than as a complete failure. Getting back on track rather than giving up helps to establish the habit,” Marisa Graham, school psychologist, said.
In the end, every goal you’re trying to take on will require trial and error. Keep at it, and work until you achieve it– it will be worth it in the end.