Are you determined to create a better work-life balance in the New Year? Ready to have a perfectly filed and ordered inbox? Or perhaps you are focused on making sure you eat better and get more exercise? Whatever your resolution may be, there are ways to ensure that you stand a better chance of sticking to it — and creating real change — well past January 17th (the date identified as the ‘breaking point’ for most people who have made New Year resolutions). Here are six tried-and-tested ways to make sure you achieve your goals in 2018…
Choose the right motivation
Powerful motivation is key to achieving anything. A poorly defined goal, with little impetus behind it, is almost guaranteed to fail so getting clear on the compelling reasons behind your resolution should be your first job. One little word will switch the light on — and that is ‘why?’ Motivation scientist Michelle Segar credits the answers to this as the foundation of behaviour change. “Motivation is our fuel for doing anything, and the quality of our motivation affects whether our resolutions stick or fade away,” she says. “Research shows that our primary reason for initiating a change determines whether we experience high- or low-quality motivation.” Importantly, consider the deeper ‘why’ rather than accept your first answer — often the one below the surface is the one that has the power to really motivate you; for example, you might want to tidy your desk every night because you feel organised, but the deeper — and more resonant — motivation could be the sense of peace you enjoy in having everything to hand when you need it.
We’ve all done it — made a huge resolution to change something in our life that feels empowering and decisive at the time, but when the time comes to put it into action, it just seems like an impossible ask. For all successful resolutions, it’s important to take the big picture into account, but start small — with some bite-sized chunks that your build resilience and confidence so you can actually achieve the goal. “If you’re not doing any exercise and set yourself the goal of going to the gym five times a week for half an hour, you’re probably not going to achieve it,” notes Dr Benjamin Gardner, an expert in behaviour change at King’s College London. Far better, in this example, to make one small change to your sedentary behaviour — such as walking to work and back — that you can achieve. Once this becomes a habit, you can tack on other relevant goals, creating a positive domino effect.
Say it as if you have already achieved it
Change your self-talk and you’ll give yourself a subtle but powerful, motivation boost. By referring to your goal as a done deal — rather than something that you are aspiring to — you can enlist the help of your subconscious to help make it a reality. “Describe the goal as already completed and use gratitude,” says May McCarthy, author of The Path to Wealth. “If you’ve already met your goal, you might say, ‘I’m so grateful to be physically fit in a trim, toned, healthy body.’ By being able to visualise your goal as already achieved — and feel grateful for it on a regular basis — you lay the pathway to behaviours that support that belief and, in time, the reality of that belief. Gratitude has recently come under scientific scrutiny, and research overwhelmingly indicates that gratitude is strongly related to healthy psychological and social functioning, as it focuses people on self-improvement and helps them maintain and build strong, supportive social ties (i). Studies have also shown that when you describe a goal with gratitude it lights up the front part of brain, the part which enhances focus and helps you to notice more possibilities to succeed.
Create a fallback plan
Being realistic doesn’t mean conceding defeat, it means acknowledging that, at some point, even the most rock-solid resolution is going to get tested. And with that comes the importance of building in a contingency plan so your goal isn’t totally derailed by a bump in the road. Before you set out, take time to consider the possible pressure points — and most importantly what your response will be — so that this is built into your plan. That way you will still feel in control and be able to get back on track quickly without a sense of failure that could end your resolution completely. Remind yourself that every day is a new day and an opportunity to try again, and remember that long-term success is largely about how quickly you get back on track after a stumble. “Because of the colourfully named ‘What the hell’ phenomenon, a minor stumble often becomes a major fall; once a good behaviour is broken, we act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken by a little or a lot,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits — to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life. “It’s important to try to fail small, not big.”
Enlist a friend
Things are definitely easier to do with support, so if you have a goal that you can enlist a friend in then it’s definitely going to help your endurance to do so. Being able to check in with (or check on) someone who is trying to keep the same resolution as you can give you a sense of camaraderie or competition, depending on what you need more — and often both at the same time. No one wants to be the first to crack! If you really want to engage with your competitive side, then you can add an incentive — over and above your own motivation. Cold hard cash has been shown to be very effective at holding people’s focus in keeping resolutions — a 2008 study showed that new year dieters who had to hand over cash if they failed to meet their goal lost a stone more than the control group in a 16-week trial. An easy way to set this up is to sign up to stickK.com, a goal-setting web platform designed by behavioural scientists that you commit money to — and which will donate it to a recipient of your choice if you fail. Or else just promise the other resolution maker that the first one to break the resolution pays for a slap-up dinner.