It is the time of year when holiday commercials are replaced with gym memberships, supplements, and self-help advertisements. By the second week of the New Year, the resolution you made when the clock hit midnight can feel unattainable, out of reach, or just exhausting. What is the trick to making a good New Year’s resolution and sticking with it?
1. Start small
Don’t try to change the world or your life overnight. Make small, sustainable goals. When you set small goals for yourself throughout the year, you work toward the larger goal instead of trying to achieve it all at once.
For example, if you want to save money, put a little aside every paycheck instead of trying to produce it all at once. Cash-back apps are a clever way to save money too. When you earn money back, transfer it to your savings account instead of to your checking account.
The most important thing to remember is that small, consistent steps help you get closer to long-term, sustainable goals.
2. Work on willpower to visualize your ideal outcome
Visualizing the outcome will take time and practice. Despite 27% of Americans reporting willpower as an obstacle to change, willpower is something people want to learn, and it is something that can be strengthened over time to help you recommit to the big picture.
Roy Maumeister, PhD, a willpower researcher at Florida State University provides three components for achieving your goals:
- Establish motivation for the change and set a clear goal – aka the big picture
- Monitor your behavior toward the goal
- Avoid short-term temptations to meet the long-term goals – willpower
3. Think about your own approach and avoidance strategies
To better understand approach and avoidance strategies for long-term success, we turn to Stony Brook Professor Denise Buhrau, PhD – planning and goal pursuit expert. Dr. Buhrau found that using innate, or natural and inborn, motivations improve healthy eating. It is a strategy that can help you understand your own motivations for your New Year’s resolutions.
When reviewing healthy eating studies, Dr. Buhrau found that weight status influenced the approach and avoidance strategies for healthy eating. Approach strategies motivate goal-consistent behaviors because the approach helps people feel as if the goal is more attainable. Avoidance strategies tend to motivate you because they help you see the consequences or extra work needed in reaching the goal on time or maintaining it.
What motivates you – feeling like you can reach your goal or awareness about the actions you take today and how they can impede progress toward achieving your goal? Once you envision yourself reaching your goal, figure out how you got there. What should you do or not do to get there?
4. Find fun ways to commit
Change the scenery to avoid burnout, fatigue, and boredom. Your environment has an impact on your success, and according to The Learning Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for you to change, your environment must change as well. Neglecting to change your environment is a common pitfall.
Think beyond the gym and join a class, go for a walk, or get up and dance. Learn a new skill with bootcamps and microcredential classes. When making healthy food options, challenge yourself to make them fun and interesting.
5. Share with others
Share your goals with others, but make sure you share with the right person. When you share your goal with someone, make sure it is with a person whose opinion you value, according to OSU’s Howard Klein. This person can be a professor, mentor at work, friend, or colleague you look up to.
Klein and his team of researchers found that sharing your goals with someone with “perceived higher status” influences a person’s commitment to the goals.
When you share your goals with “higher-ups” you are likely to stay motivated and accountable. Be careful, however, about stress and anxiety as you try to impress that person.
6. Know where your support is
Find your support team and don’t be afraid to accept help. The American Psychological Association shows that accepting help from others who care about you and will listen helps to build resilience and manage stress. If you aren’t comfortable reaching out to family and friends, consider professional help to better understand your mind and body connection with strategies to “adjust your goals so they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors…”
Read more: “How the community around you helps your mental health stay strong.”
7. Plan for plan B
Don’t give up when you face a setback. When you give yourself a break, you are less likely to feel shame or anxiety about snuggling on the couch when you planned to go to the gym, enjoying a cookie, or spending a little extra money at dinner. If you relapse into a “bad habit,” remember that one day is not a lifetime. Name what happened, how you felt, and what you learned. Use setbacks to recommit to the resolution. When you experience pitfalls, punch back with resilience. You will learn a lot about yourself and how to expect and overcome pitfalls in the future.
In the end, don’t dread the New Year’s resolution. Change the approach and explore ways to find a new support network, make fun changes to your routine, stay positive, and reach out. When planning your New Year’s resolution, don’t compare your inside to other people’s outsides.
SUNY is committed to offering students mental health services, faculty support, and student services for strategies to find personal success in the new year. Good luck!