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? The explosion of studies into how the brain works has more experts attempting to explain the science behind why we make resolutions—and more relevantly, how we can keep them.
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, experts say—but the average person has so many competing priorities that 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.
So “this year, I’m keeping my resolution list short,” says Chris Berdik, a science journalist and the author of “Mind Over Mind. “I think my earlier laundry lists made it easier to abandon.”
And it’s more sensible to set “small, attainable goals throughout the year, rather than a singular, overwhelming goal,” according to psychologist Lynn Bufka. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time,” Bufka adds.
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.
“A resolution to lose some weight is not that easy to follow,” notes Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist.
“It is much easier to follow a plan that says no potato chips, fries, or ice cream for six weeks.”
And be specific. Don’t say you’re “going to start going to the gym” in 2013—set a clear ambition, like attending a weekly spin class or lifting weights every Tuesday or Thursday.
“We say if you can’t measure it, it’s not a very good resolution because vague goals beget vague resolutions,” says John Norcross of the University of Scranton.
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