New year’s resolutions are one of the greatest testaments to our short-sighted optimism. A drastic change to your lifestyle might seem perfectly feasible in the spur of the moment, but it’s easy to lose track of your goals and give up.
Here are a few ways you can both make and maintain resolutions and make the most of the upcoming year.
Making vague resolutions is about as useful as making none at all. Smaller, more measurable goals are easier to track and maintain. According to Gary Latham, a U of T Professor of Organizational Behaviour and HR management, non-specific goals are one of the reasons people lose motivation so quickly.
“The goal, because it is stated in non specific terms… is not measurable,” he wrote in an email. “Hence, people cannot track their progress toward goal attainment. They do not experience the satisfaction from [achieving their goals].”
For example, instead of forming a vague goal, like getting better grades this semester, it is more beneficial to break down the goal into smaller, more targeted tasks, like aiming for at least 80 per cent on every tutorial quiz.
The key is to make specific goals that will help your big picture.
Break it down
Small achievements are extremely important when trying to attain long-term goals. They keep the reward system in your brain fired up, helping you stay motivated. Latham said the key is to break a larger goal down into stepwise tasks. “Completing one subtask will prove motivational for tackling the next subtask.”
Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete each smaller part.
“Only set goals that are attainable, goals where you have the ability and resources to attain,” said Latham. For instance, if your goal is to get more sleep this year, you should not be aiming to get 10 hours of sleep every night, or any other amount that won’t be possible with your schedule.
Make whatever reasonable lifestyle changes you can to make getting more sleep a more attainable goal. “If you have an outside job in order to meet your expenses plus a full schedule of classes, consider the value of becoming a part-time student and graduate in 6 years rather than four,” suggested Latham. “If the issue is merely cutting back on your social life, do so.”
Essentially, do what you can to achieve a goal, but don’t be unrealistic about what you can do and what changes you can make.
Make it a habit
Forming and altering habits may be the secret force behind successful resolutions.
Wendy Wood, the Provost Professor in Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California, argued that those who follow through with their resolutions are able to find a way to make their goals into habits.
For instance, instead of trying to break a bad habit, alter it. If you want to drink less coffee throughout the day, replace your fourth afternoon cup with a bottle of water. If you’ve already ingrained a habit of drinking something at a particular time, switching up the beverage is a small change that can cause a habitual shift.
Over time, Wood said, neural activity shifts, causing a habitual response based on the reward we receive. Falling back on bad habits is all a part of the learning process, so don’t be easily discouraged.
While it’s common to fail at keeping resolutions, it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll fail. The key is to make specific, realistic goals that you’re willing to commit to. Use your brain’s ability to form habits to your advantage, and break down big goals into smaller ones you can achieve. With time, you’ll be part of an elite minority who can proudly proclaim that they’ve kept their new year’s resolutions.