5 Keys to Successful New Year’s Resolutions

December 30th, 2009

Although many people make New Year’s resolutions, only a few actually accomplish the changes that they desire. Will you be one of the many who fail to accomplish their goals this year, or one of the few who succeed?

It’s common to hear people say that they’ll soon be starting a new diet or exercise program, but even if they actually make the attempt, chances are that the effort won’t last long. New Year’s resolutions aren’t much different. They’re usually based on changes that are long overdue and have persisted through many failed and halfhearted attempts. In fact, some people make the same resolutions year after year, and even when motivation starts off strong, the temptation and comfort of old habits will often prevail. This is not to say that there’s no value in making New Year’s resolutions, but rather that it should be done with the proper perspective.

Are New Year’s Resolutions Worth the Effort?

According to a study done on the effectiveness of New Year’s resolutions, only 46% of the participants considered themselves to still be successful in the pursuit of their goals after 6 months. A similar experiment found the success rate to be only 12% after a full year. While this may initially sound disappointing, the first study also surveyed participants who were pursuing goals not associated with a New Year’s resolution and found that only 4% of them considered themselves to still be successful after 6 months.

Based on the numbers above, there’s clearly something to be said for the formalized commitment of a New Year’s resolution. However, this commitment is only a small piece of what’s necessary to turn a resolution into a reality. The following are some tips that constitute a more complete approach and will greatly increase the likeliness of success.

Evaluate Your Motives

This may sound redundant at first, but it’s not as obvious as it may seem and is what I consider to be the most important factor in achieving a goal regardless of it being associated with a New Year’s resolution or not. Change is difficult and uncomfortable, and to successfully overcome this, it’s absolutely necessary to have an intense desire for the outcome that the change will bring. This desire must also be enduring, and for this to be the case, you must have a clear and solid understanding of why the projected outcome of your goal is so valuable to you. Without this desire and understanding, the discomfort of change will be extremely difficult to overcome.

Weight loss is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions and is very much based on diet. The sound eating habits that are the most critical aspect of healthy weight loss require a significant amount of determination to learn and implement. As such, the desire for weight loss must be strong enough to overcome the temptation and convenience of old habits, and the strength of this desire will depend on the perceived value of losing weight. For example, someone who’s suffering badly from being overweight is likely to have a much stronger desire to lose weight than someone who simply wants a nice figure to show off at the beach.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your figure, but you should be honest with yourself about the value that such a goal will bring and if it’s worth the time and effort that you’ll need to invest. It will also be beneficial to spend more time thinking about the outcome of achieving your goal to see if you can associate any additional meaning with it. For example, if you initially wanted to lose weight just to improve your figure, you might realize that the health benefits of an excellent diet are important to you as well, and this added meaning will make it easier to implement the eating habits that will promote weight loss.

On a regular basis, ask yourself what you value most about life, how well your goals are aligned with these values, and how much better your life would be if you achieved your goals. If you don’t find the answers to be deeply inspiring, then your motivation will probably disappear quickly and you might as well be one of the many people who make the same New Year’s resolutions year after year. In other words, if you’re pursuing a challenging goal that won’t add significant meaning to your life, then your chances of success are limited.

Envision Success

Although it should be obvious that your thoughts and perspective can have a significant influence on your actions, many people get in their own way by having a poor outlook. If you perceive yourself as someone who’s already making progress and will achieve success, it can serve as a valuable source of satisfaction and motivation. In contrast, if you have frequent doubts about how difficult it will be to accomplish your goal and how much work you have left to do, it will probably encourage you to give up. By envisioning your success instead of dwelling on your doubts, you’ll be encouraged to consistently make the small decisions that will eventually accumulate into significant changes, and because this can happen at the subconscious level, it can be very powerful.

Consider someone who just had a stressful and upsetting day. Despite their desire to lose weight, they might be tempted to lift their mood with a huge bowl of ice cream. If they were to perceive themselves positively as someone who’s made great effort and progress towards weight loss, the satisfaction from this alone may eliminate the need to indulge, and if it doesn’t, the importance of their goal and the meaning behind it will likely influence them to not eat the ice cream or enjoy a more conservative portion of it. In contrast, someone who repeatedly reminds themselves of how much weight they have to lose and how long it will take will be more likely to surrender to their temptations and regret it afterward.

Commit to Only One Change at a Time

Changing even just a single habit or routine can be very difficult. If it wasn’t, the concept of New Year’s resolutions wouldn’t exist because we’d all be able to make a change as soon as we perceived the need for it. Despite the difficulty of change, it’s easy to get excited about the prospect of what we can accomplish during the new year, and as a result, be overzealous with our goals. This often leads to a number of ambitious goals, but because it’s more difficult to implement multiple changes at the same time, trying to pursue them all at once further decreases the already limited chance of success.

By focusing on one change at a time, you can increase the amount of focus and effort that you dedicate to it, and in turn, greatly improve your chances of success. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you’ll likely be planning to change both your eating and exercising habits. Rather than attempting to accomplish both changes simultaneously, it would be much easier and more effective to initially focus all of your effort on the most important change which would be improving your diet. Once your new eating habits become a solidified part of your daily routine, then you can focus on starting a well rounded exercise program.

You can even take this approach a step further by focusing on smaller changes that are more specific such as reducing sugar consumption or improving just one daily meal at a time. With smaller changes like these, you won’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of reinventing your entire diet.

Despite the added challenge of pursuing multiple goals at once, you can still commit yourself to more than one New Year’s resolution. The key is to prioritize them and pursue only one at a time. For more information on prioritizing goals and simplifying them into smaller and more manageable pieces, I recommend that you read The Power of Less by Leo Babauta.

Make a Daily Effort to Improve

A year is a long time. If you manage this time wisely, it can make your success much easier than expected, but if you manage it poorly, you may very well be making the same New Year’s resolution again next year. Doing something each and every day that contributes to the achievement of your goal will generate momentum and make it easier to maintain your motivation. Even if your daily efforts are small, they can still accumulate into significant changes over time. For example, if you were to do something each day to maintain the healthy pace of losing just 2 pounds per week, you could lose more than 100 pounds by the end of the year.

Another benefit of consistency and persistence is the fact that it reduces the immediate amount of work that needs to be done which can be a major factor in preventing a loss of motivation. Although it can depend on the type of the goal, making a small effort each day is typically a lot easier and much more effective than making a larger effort less frequently. An obvious example is preparing for an exam. In regard to weight loss, however, a consistent effort is more of a necessity than an option because your success will depend on your daily habits.

It’s also important to realize that consistency and persistence can be detrimental if taken too far. Although these are two of the most important factors in successfully implementing new habits, you’ll likely overwhelm yourself, become frustrated, and lose your motivation if you push yourself too hard. Doing so may initially accelerate your progress, but if it ultimately causes you to give up, you’ll be no better off at the end of the year than when you started.

Educate Yourself

Second to giving your motives an honest and thorough evaluation, I think knowledge is the next most important factor in achieving your goals. Even with an unlimited amount of motivation and effort, it’s unlikely that you’ll make much progress without knowing an effective way to achieve your desired outcome. In contrast, following a more informed approach can save a lot of time, effort, and frustration while also increasing your chances of success.

Most goals can be achieved in a number of different ways, and as such, you should choose an approach that’s compatible with your values, preferences, and abilities. Many New Year’s resolutions, especially weight loss, require changes that need to become lifelong habits. If these changes won’t be an enjoyable or at least agreeable part of your daily life, chances are that you’ll revert back to old habits. Even if you have enough determination to not let this happen, the forced effort may cause so much conflict and frustration that it defeats the purpose by compromising your life instead of improving it. Although sacrifice and persistence are typically necessary for achieving any goal that’s worth pursuing, having enough knowledge to choose the most suitable and effective approach can significantly reduce the burden and will facilitate success.

If weight loss will be one of your New Year’s resolutions this year, the approach that I suggest you consider is to minimize the consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, eat mostly natural whole foods, and develop a healthy and sustainable perspective on weight loss. Most people don’t realize that weight loss has a lot more to do with diet than exercise, and by focusing on losing weight through a healthy diet, you’ll be much more healthy, happy, and energetic than if you chose the more popular method of overexercising to compensate for a poor diet.

Happy New Year!

Regardless of whether the past year was good or bad, it’s exciting to think about what the new year may bring and what we can do to improve our lives. Hopefully this excitement has encouraged you to establish some well thought out goals for next year. I sincerely hope that you’ll thoroughly enjoy pursuing them, I wish you plenty of success in doing so, and I hope that the upcoming year will be one of your best yet!

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