HEALTH & WELLNESS | DECEMBER 15, 2019
There’s something extra inspiring about the sense of potential that comes with the start of the calendar. Follow these guidelines when you outline your goals and make the most of 2020.
You certainly don’t need to wait until the beginning of a new year to come up with goals, but there’s something extra inspiring about the sense of potential that comes with the start of the calendar. Why the boost of motivation? During this time, research shows that humans find it easier to rationalize away previous, unsuccessful attempts to change our behavior, and we approach new goals with motivation and optimism. That helps explain why some 40% of Americans form New Year’s resolutions, as reported by the Washington Post. Of course, the number of people who keep them is a different story.
While 40% of the country makes them, at least as many people seem to scoff at the concept of New Year’s resolutions, probably because of the casual way that they’re made – and subsequently abandoned. According to a study from U.S. News and World Report, 80% of the people who make resolutions fail by just the second week in February. Over the course of the entire year, research from the University of Scranton indicates that just 8% of people will reach the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the year.
These statistics aren’t meant to discourage you, but they do mean that you should be very intentional about your resolutions. With the New Year right around the corner, it’s a good time to start coming up with a few goals so you’ll be ready to hit the ground running on January 1st. To give yourself the best possible chance of having a successful and transformative year, follow these guidelines and make the most of 2020.
1. Keep a narrow focus
In a perfect world you would exercise more, eat healthier, quit your bad habits, make better financial decisions, learn a new skill each week, and the list goes on. The problem is that resolving to do all of these things is sabotaging your chances of accomplishing any of them. You might be able to work toward an extensive list of goals for a few days but spreading your limited time across many commitments means they’ll eventually overwhelm you. To create lasting change, start by picking one area. Having trouble deciding? Spend time making a list of your top 10 priorities in life. Now remove the bottom seven. It isn’t easy, but focus is critical if you want to achieve your most important and ambitious goals. Don’t just take our word for it – visionaries ranging from the late Steve Jobs to investing mogul Warren Buffett wholeheartedly agree with this strategy.
2. Be realistic
When you set an overly ambitious goal, it’s much easier to get burnt out and give up on achieving the impossible. For example, say you’re struggling to lose weight. It might be theoretically possible for you to cut 50 pounds or get down to a body builder’s 5% body fat, but that will take an incredible (and potentially unhealthy) commitment. Instead, resolve to lose eight pounds and – this part is critical – reevaluate your situation once you’ve accomplished the initial goal. If you’re looking to get in better shape, don’t resolve to do an Ironman triathlon. Maybe decide that you’ll do something active every day, whether it’s going on a run, hitting the gym, or just getting outside for a 20-minute walk. When you’ve stuck to this routine for three months and formed new habits, you can begin to think about raising the bar.
3. Leave yourself some wiggle room
In one study, participants were separated into three groups and asked to consistently perform an assignment in exchange for a monetary reward. One group had to accomplish the task seven out of seven days, and one group was told the minimum was five out of seven, but they were encouraged to perform the task every day. Meanwhile, the last group was told to complete the assignment seven out of seven days, but these individuals were given two “mulligans” or days off if they needed them. The first two groups experienced a 21% and 26% success rate, respectively, while the last group achieved an incredible 53%. The point is that you shouldn’t give up on a worthwhile goal after one missed day or setback. Recognize that no one is infallible, give yourself a “mulligan,” and stay the course.
4. Realize that growth is rarely linear
We often picture progress as a straight line, with steady and consistent improvement toward a goal. This idealized vision is rarely an accurate representation of reality. Instead, progress involves peaks and valleys, good days and bad days, and for every few steps forward, there will inevitably be one or two steps back. During these hiccups where it feels like your growth falters, it’s easy to get discouraged, but you need to recognize that even these stagnant periods are an integral part of accomplishing your goal. Trust the process and stay focused on what you can achieve each day, only looking back at what you’ve accomplished after a period of months.
With the majority of people giving up on their New Year’s Resolutions mere weeks into the year, it’s no wonder the gesture has gotten a bad reputation. That doesn’t mean these goals can’t be useful, however – just that people are approaching them the wrong way. Instead of shooting for the moon with lofty goals or holding yourself to an impossible standard, follow the above four steps and give yourself the best chance possible of success. You can achieve great things if you make smart goals and stick to them.