Popular resolutions tend to be to lose weight, go to the gym, quit smoking, drink less and spend less money. Not a very exciting start to the year. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a study by Cancer Research UK of 4,000 adults found that 39 per cent of people gave up on their resolutions in just two weeks with only nine per cent claiming to have stuck with them for at least six months. Another study by Prof. Richard Wiseman in 2010 discovered just 22 per cent of participants managed to meet their goals or described their progress as ‘very successful’.
Why do we bother making high and mighty claims every year if it’s only such a small minority of us that ever see them through? And, more importantly, how do we make goals that we might actually achieve?
January is typically a time for reflection and planning, but with another year gone it can be easy to fall into the trap of beating yourself up for things you didn’t succeed at or where you felt you fell short. This can lead to unrealistic goal-setting (i.e. ‘I’ll go to the gym four times a week’ when you haven’t been once in two years). January can be tough enough without setting yourself up for a fall. Failing at your goals will only make you feel despondent and rob you of any motivation you might have had to make positive changes.
Why not make this January different? Sit down on your own or with a friend or family member and discuss your highlights from 2013. Remember all the things you enjoyed and were proud of – don’t discount any achievements no matter how seemingly small: helping a friend through a difficult time/visiting your gran twice a month rather than once/getting that pay rise you’ve been working so hard towards.
Next, come up with a list of things that you’d like to do over the next year – positive things that will add to your life rather than negative things to give up. For example, ‘work towards a promotion’ rather than ‘avoid my boss’ or ‘walk home from work twice a week’ rather than ‘stop eating cake’.
It doesn’t matter what it is or how many you chose as long as they’re positive goals that are also SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. So if you’re hoping for a promotion at work, aim for the next step up (achievable) rather than ‘becoming C.E.O’ and set yourself a time frame of when you want to achieve it by (timely). Speak to a mentor or manager at work to discuss what you’ll need to do for this to happen (specific) and then write down each step so you can tick them off (measurable). Perhaps most importantly though, note down why this is relevant – why do you want to achieve this? The goal has to be worthwhile or you won’t bother trying.
Check back in on your plan every week or so to see how you’re getting on and ask friends or family to remind you why you’re doing it if you hit a lull (social support is a huge motivator). By making a plan (and actually writing it down) you’re much more likely to stick to it and by breaking down your goals into small manageable steps and rewarding yourself as you meet each target you’ll be far more motivated to keep going.