Self-improvement, or at least the desire for it, is a shared American hobby. It’s why so many of us—some estimates say more than 40% of Americans—make New Year’s resolutions.
But for all the good intentions, only a tiny fraction of us keep our resolutions; University of Scranton research suggests that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.
Why do so many people fail at goal-setting, and what are the secrets behind those who succeed? Below we have provided some tips on ensuring that you keep your upcoming New Year’s resolutions.
Keep it Simple
Many people use the New Year as an opportunity to make large bucket lists or attempt extreme makeovers, whether personal or professional.
That’s a nice aspiration, but this type of approach is doomed to failure. Essentially, shooting for the moon can be so psychologically daunting, you end up failing to launch in the first place.
Make it Tangible
Setting ambitious resolutions can be fun and inspiring, but the difficulty in achieving them means that your elation can quickly give way to frustration. That’s why goals should be bounded by rational, achievable metrics.
Be specific. Don’t say you’re “going to start going to the gym” — set a clear ambition, like attending a weekly spin class or lifting weights every Tuesday or Thursday.
Make it Obvious
Experts recommend charting your goals in some fashion, although there’s no universal strategy for success. For some, making a clear to-do list is enough of a reminder; others rely on “vision boards” or personal diaries.
An emerging tactic: share your goals with your friends and family. It’s another way to build accountability, especially in the Facebook era.
Sharing the resolutions is a good way to hold yourself to them. In our increasingly public lives, social media can be used as a motivator.
Keep Believing You Can Do It
To be clear: Simply setting a goal does raise your chances of achieving that goal, significantly.
But within weeks or months, people begin abandoning their resolutions as they hit bumps in the road that throw them off their stride.
More often than not, people who fail to keep their resolutions blame their own lack of willpower. In surveys, these would-be resolver's repeatedly say that if only they had more self-determination, they would’ve overcome any hurdles and achieved their goals.
However there is an emerging body of research that willpower is malleable. In one study led by a Stanford University psychologist, scientists gauged whether test subjects believed they could exhaust their willpower, and sought to convince them otherwise. The researchers found that people “performed better or worse [on tests] depending on their belief in the durability of willpower.”
You have as much willpower as you think you have, essentially. Which means that on some level, your journey toward self-improvement will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.