It’s the beginning of a new year and we all know that means resolutions.
For most of us resolutions are something we set at the end of December and abandon by the end of January. So why bother setting them when we never stick to them?
Changing habits is hard and grand resolutions don’t set us up for success. And when we set our new year’s resolution, we usually go big. We’re hopeful and ready to embrace the new year by setting some positive intentions. The only problem is that we set our intentions without a realistic plan to make them happen.
The way to make lasting change is by making small changes gradually. It’s not enough to set our intention, we need to map out a plan of the small changes that will get us there. The problem with most of our new year’s resolutions is that we aim for a huge outcome and believe willpower will get us there. Willpower plays a role in achieving change, but it alone is not enough.
So how do we make lasting change?
1. Get specific.
The first step to making an achievable new year’s resolution is to get specific about your goals.
Saying things like “I want to get in shape” or “I want to make all my deadlines” isn’t specific enough. How are you going to achieve these goals? And what will successfully achieving these goals look like?
Is getting in shape running a 10K by the end of the year? Or is it having a 3-day a week gym routine. Vagueness is prohibitive of action, so be specific and once you are, you can start putting together an actionable plan.
2. Start small.
When we start a resolution, we’re motivated and our willpower is strong. We want to achieve our goal as quick as possible, often biting off more than we can chew. We buy our gym pass and start going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week or we load up on notebook planner and multicoloured pens to get organized – heck yeah, we’re doing the thing we said we would!
But three weeks in the motivation starts to waiver. We haven’t created a sustainable habit and we lose momentum. Now it’s February and we’re not going to the gym at all and those notebooks are collecting dust.
This is a familiar pattern for most of us, so how do we avoid it? Make the change manageable so that you make it a habit.
For example, if you want to go to the gym three times a week, start by committing to go every Tuesday. Once you’ve done a month or two of going to the gym on Tuesdays, introduce a new day.
If hitting deadlines is your resolution, set 5 minutes aside in the morning before opening your laptop to list out what needs to get done that day, then build up to 15. The point is to make sure the change is comfortable and second nature before introducing the next step.
3. Boost your willpower with rewards.
Rewards are a great way to reinforce a new habit. Rewards don’t need to be big, and in fact, they shouldn’t be. While it’s okay to have a big reward in mind, it’s more important to have regular, small rewards while implementing a habit.
Promising to buy yourself an expensive trip or handbag for sticking to your resolution is too big and far off to be effective in your day to day. Big rewards aren’t tangible enough to create the urgency you need to create daily motivation.
For example, if you’ve decided that you’ll start going to the gym on Tuesday’s, you can pick a restaurant nearby the gym to grab take out from. Now Tuesdays are when you go to the gym and you grab your family takeout sushi.
To get the reward of an evening free of cooking, you must first go to the gym. It’s a lot harder to justify doing it tomorrow when the loss of the reward is immediately tangible. A good thing to note is that while reward is an essential part of making habits stick, once the habit is in place, the reward is less necessary. By the time the habit is securely in place, and you won’t need the motivation provided by the reward.
4. Piggyback habits.
Another helpful tool in changing habits is piggybacking habits. This works by taking an existing habit and adding a new habit onto it. This is effective because you’re bundling your new habit with a specific cue that is already deeply engrained in your day to day.
Say you’re struggling to get your reports in on time. You’ve identified that one of your biggest issues is staying on top of your data input and you know that making input a habit will help you make your deadlines. Look at your day and identify a current habit you have and bundle data input with it. Do you always start the morning with a coffee at your desk? Try pairing your data input with this coffee and soon it will become second nature.
Staying motivated is hard and a little celebration can go a long way.
Popping a champaign bottle every time you input data might be a bit unreasonable but creating an appropriate celebration for your daily success will keep your willpower boosted.
The celebration can be as small as crossing the task off your to-do list or doing a little dance in your chair. It’s totally okay for it to be a little silly, this isn’t about letting other people know what you’ve accomplished, it’s about letting your brain know it should feel good.
By giving ourselves the positive boost of a small celebration, we’re incentivizing ourselves to make the habit stick.
6. Practice makes progress.
No matter how motivated and brimming with willpower you are, sticking to your resolutions isn’t going to be a straightforward success. You’ll have weeks where you struggle, and you’ll backslide. This is just part of the process.
It’s important to be realistic about this while not letting a time of struggle totally derail us. If you ignore your data input for a week, that’s okay. Not being perfect isn’t failure, it’s just human.
You’ll keep your resolution if you don’t give up. Backsliding and recommitting is part of the process.