New Year resolutions are meant to be personally rewarding; unfortunately, too often they begin as wished-for results, use ‘willpower’ as a sole strategy for success, and gradually fade causing regret or self criticism. If you decide to set a new years resolution or two, first of all remember, the purpose is to be good to yourself, not self-critical. Secondly, if you plan on setting goals for the new-year, using a simple formula based upon behavioral science can help your wishes bear fruit.
Four key characteristics for achieving goals are making the goal important, being specific in planning your goal, putting reminders or ‘nudges’ in your daily path, and tracking your progress.
Important: Sometimes the biggest challenges to achieving a goal or two, is having too many goals or tasks to accomplish. Ask yourself, ‘What makes this goal important enough to me, to make it a priority within the array of tasks, projects, demands, and distractions, that I will inevitably face each day’. Do you want to exercise more because you want more energy, because you want to look better, be healthier, be there for your children…..? Understand ‘the why’ in detail. Using the five ‘Why’ tool can help. For example, ‘I want to be tobacco free in 2017’ Why – because I want to be healthier; Why – because I feel better when I am healthier; Why is that important – because I will be able to do more things I enjoy; Why – because my life will feel engaged and fulfilling; Why- because feeling engaged and fulfilled will make me a better family person. Be clear about how the goal applies to your personal values.
Specific: Specific goals are much more likely to be brought to fruition when compared with vague goals. ‘I will exercise more this year’ may be a good goal, but ‘I will plan to go to the fitness center 2 x per week’ makes the plan more likely to come alive. Of course, the specifics should be achievable, and realistic. As with most things, under promising is better than over promising.
Nudge: A human reality is that our memory, attention, and actions are most likely to be evoked by things that are right in front of us. We can use this to our advantage by placing reminders in places that they won’t be missed. Place a picture that reminds you of the benefits of being tobacco free right by your toothbrush so you see it every day. Put your exercise clothes out the night before, and nudge yourself to do that by leaving a reminder where you won’t miss it before you go to bed.
Track: Keeping track of our accomplishments toward a goal is a proven strategy for success. Each day or week you are tobacco free, mark it on your calendar and remind yourself of the benefits. Keep a log of your exercise. Use a fitness tracker. You can make this tool even more powerful by sharing it with others, either in-person or through social media.
I wish you a happy and healthy New Year. If you are setting a resolution for the New Year, use these simple tools and you’ll find that success ISNT so difficult.