NEW YORK—With the new year comes hope, excitement and, for many, resolutions. Most resolutions come from a good place, one of commitment and energy, but many resolution-makers find their willpower petering out in the dark days of January and February. Of course, that’s okay—not everything is meant to be changed—but for those committed to making a lasting change, there are a few steps that may just help.
It starts with the resolution itself. The New York Times reports three reasons why people have trouble keeping their resolutions: the resolution is based on what others are telling you, the resolution is too vague, or you don’t have a concrete plan for achieving the resolution. A solid resolution, The Times says, should fit into the SMART acronym, coined by the journal Management Review in 1981. Here’s how the acronym breaks down:
Speaking to the Cleveland Clinic, psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, echoes the Times’ sentiment and recommends that resolutions should be quite specific—but also flexible, because life changes. She told the Clinic, “Resolutions should be concrete. So, instead of making a broad resolution to ‘exercise more,’ make a specific goal that you want to walk for 20 minutes a day. Give yourself an achievable target. Be flexible and forgiving. That can help you avoid feeling frustrated later.”
Being committed is easier with a partner, too, the Clinic suggests. Be it a friend, a family member or a coach of some sort, having a resolution buddy is a great way to hold yourself accountable and make achieving your goal more enjoyable. Plus, it keeps the resolution at the front of mind—something Dr. Albers says is vital.
Time reinforces the importance of having a partner or a group, too, citing research from David Kalkstein, Cayce Hook, and colleagues, which “suggests that [social] norms don’t simply change behavior because people conform in an effort to please others. Rather, norms may limit the behavioral options that even come to mind.” As in: if you are in a group of people committed to the same thing (be it exercising more, reading more, spending less screen time, cooking at home more, or any other resolution), it becomes a social norm within that group—and once a norm is established, sticking to that norm becomes like a second nature.
Time’s Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer write, “So when you create a New Year’s Resolution this year consider joining a group. Whether you are at home or at work, think more deeply about how your good intentions can be supported (or undermined) by groups and their norms. You might form a running group with friends, start a book club with coworkers, join a local environmental organization, or attend regular meditation meet-ups… This is how our groups can help us become the best version of ourselves.”
Another great way to keep yourself committed to your goal is to log data related to it. Logging in a journal, on an app or starting a blog is a fun, detail-oriented way to stay on track. Dr. Albers tells Cleveland Clinic, “Keeping data not only helps you track your progress, but it can also help you on days where it’s not going well. Looking back over time to see how you’re doing can help keep you motivated.” Plus, looking at data can be really fun for the nerdy among us.
The most important thing, though, is to understand that goals are goals for a reason: they are hard to achieve, and being hard on yourself for slipping up will not help you get there any faster. It’s imperative to be flexible and kind to yourself while aiming toward your New Year’s resolution—even when things aren’t going the way you imagined they would. Nobody is 100 percent perfect all the time, and you can always get back up and try again—it doesn’t have to be on January 1.