New Year’s resolutions – How to set realistic goals and stick to them
It’s not always easy to stick to the goals we set for ourselves
Even the best intentions can be left by the wayside as busy lives take over. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to increase your chances of success.
There’s a difference between dreaming big and just dreaming
If we set our goals based solely on what we want and don’t think about how to stick to a New Year’s resolution, then we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
Think about what you want. Dream of it, and inspire yourself. Once you’ve lit the fire, it’s time to make an action plan. Design your path by thinking about exactly how you can get to your end goal. When you have created this plan, you will find it’s easier to stay on course as you climb each of the steps that lead to your ultimate goal.
Why should you set yourself a New Year’s resolution this year?
New Year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. Many people view them as a fad obsession that will be forgotten about within a month or two. Unfortunately, this is often true. There's a gap between our New year’s resolution expectations vs reality.
We’ve all got lots of things that we’d like to do. Goals we’d like to reach. Changes we want to make. The reality is, it’s not easy to do all of these things, and many of us have stumbled during such attempts to better ourselves.
Don’t give up though. Just because you’ve struggled before, and just because the task isn’t easy, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Did you know that people who make a New Year resolution are 10 times more likely to make a change than those who don’t?
So, by making a New Year resolution, you are already taking the first step towards making the changes you’ve been dreaming of.
Of course, there is a lot more to success than simply setting a goal and wishing it into existence. We’ve got some helpful tips that will help you to set yourself up for victory. Step 1, decide on what you want and set a realistic goal for this. Step 2, understand how you can encourage yourself to keep at it.
New Year’s resolutions and why they fail
There are plenty of reasons why a New Year resolution might fail. No doubt most of us have a few that we’ve discovered from previous resolution attempts.
One of the easiest traps to fall into is being over-optimistic. If we set a goal that is too idealistic and we don’t put the thought into planning how we can actually achieve it, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. There’s a lot of work that goes into obtaining our ambitions. Sometimes we get so caught up in the possibilities of success that we don’t want to consider how challenging it might be to get there.
There are other reasons why a New Year’s resolution might fail. Sometimes we have to put our intention on pause when we are overwhelmed by changes or stresses in our lives. But, most of us miss our target because we focus all of our energy on the outcome while ignoring the path we need to take to get there.
Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. Most of us are perfectly capable of avoiding these potential derailers. And if you are reading this, then you’re already going in the right direction.
What is a realistic goal?
One of the best ways to set yourself up for success is to set a realistic goal. There are multiple ways to do this.
A study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine suggests that a goal is realistic when our intentions and expectations are consistent. Do you truly believe that you can achieve your goal? If it feels attainable, then you are starting with a positive attitude. You're neither overly optimistic nor overly pessimistic.
When you are thinking about what goal you want to set, think. Can you picture yourself achieving this?
Sometimes we can get a little overambitious. When motivation hits, it can feel like you’re capable of anything. It can lead to us setting too many or much too large objectives.
These unattainable goals seem like a good idea to start with, but most of us quickly realise that success is farther than we thought. Luckily, that’s not a problem. You can simply alter your aim.
Try to focus on one main overall goal. Choose what is most important to you, what is most urgent? Then break it down into smaller steps to work out exactly how you will get there.
Everything you need to know about realistic goal setting
Research shows that SMART goals are better than vague ones. Your ultimate objective should be:
- Realistic &
It helps to know exactly what you’re trying to do and how. SMART goals ensure that you are thinking about how, when, and what you want in detail.
An example of a SMART goal might be wanting to lose 10 pounds in 30 days. Choosing this instead of just proposing to lose weight or be healthier gives you a more specific target. Measuring your success within a limited time frame like this helps to keep you focused on your goal.
Or, with January just around the corner, maybe you want to stop drinking. A New Year's resolution is a great motivator if you've been thinking about cutting down on alcohol and getting healthier. Dry January is a perfect SMART goal to get you started. With such a short time frame, you'll be more likely to stick to your resolution. And once you've found success, you're more likely to triumph again.
When you are thinking about the goals that you have, try and choose just one. Deciding on one core target will help you from being overwhelmed or becoming distracted. When we have too many areas to focus on, we don't tend to concentrate on any of them.
When you are deciding on your resolution, make sure that it is something that matters to you. If you don’t care about whether or not you reach the goal, you’ll never stick to it. If you do care, then you’ll be able to stay motivated and keep trying, even if you’re facing a hurdle.
How to keep New Year’s resolutions – Our top tips
Once you have your New Year resolution set, it’s time to work out how you’re going to keep it. This can be tricky, but don’t worry, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself out.
A positive attitude can go a long way. People who believe in themselves are more likely to succeed. You might think this isn’t for you. If you don’t have that naturally optimistic disposition, then what can you do?
Fake it till you make it! It’s an oldy but a goody. You'll trick your brain into believing if you keep telling yourself you can do it and if you keep finding positive things in your life.
And don’t worry if you find yourself doubting. That’s natural, and it can restore balance. Being too much of a negative Nancy won’t secure success, but nor will overconfidence.
Mistakes are okay
Have you ever been on a diet and fallen off the wagon? You found yourself stuffing yourself with crisps and sweets. Now you’ve broken the diet, what does it matter? You might as well carry on eating rubbish.
We’ve all been there or somewhere similar. Sometimes when we err from our goal, we give up. It’s not going perfectly, so you stop trying.
The reality is, mistakes are inevitable. You’re going to make more than one blunder on the way to achieving your goal. When it happens, don’t sweat it. Accept that you’ve made a mistake and see what you can do to get back on track.
Know your habits
This might seem like a funny one, but if you know your habits, you can try to build your goals alongside them.
It’s much easier to work towards a goal that fits into at least some of your current habits. We want to make things as easy as we can for ourselves.
What if you want to cut down on alcohol, but you love going to the pub with your mates? You can still have a New Year's resolution of no drinking. Just swap out the alcoholic beverage for your favourite non-alcoholic one. This way, you still get to live your life and do the things you enjoy, but you’re doing it healthily.
Plan your route
You wouldn’t set out for a new job with no idea on how to get there, would you?
It’s the same for a new goal. Planning out your journey will help you to keep your goal realistic and give you something to work towards consistently.
Rewarding your successes is a great way to stay motivated and happy.
Your rewards may be as small as checking an item from a list with a giant tick, or they could be something more significant for completing larger portions of your overall goal. They can be monetary gifts, time away, or a child-like treat- your reward is whatever you want.
Studies have shown that using rewards can help to reinforce positive behaviour and lead to higher rates of reported success. Now you’ve got the perfect excuse to treat yourself with a New Year's resolution you can actually keep.
Change takes time. It’s a process. It won’t happen overnight, but if you’re patient and you keep working, you’ll get there.
Remind yourself why
Why are you doing this? Why did you decide on that goal?
When you’re struggling or feeling lost, remind yourself of why you started. You can keep post-it notes or rewatch the video that inspired you at the beginning. Whatever you choose, a reminder can renew motivation to reach your goal.
Choose a solid support system
You can find support within your family, your friends, or online.
Think about what you need. If you feel well supported by a particular friend, spouse, parent, sibling, or anyone else, then they are someone you can rely on to help keep you on course.
However, you may not want to share this goal with the people in your life. Especially if you don’t think they’ll offer the support you need or feel it adds too much pressure. In such cases, you can always find assistance online. Look for communities of people with similar goals. You can offer accountability to each other, share struggles, and join together for wins.
You don’t have to use all of these tips at once. You can incorporate just one or two or as many as suit your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed by all of the suggestions, you might want to choose one that feels most relevant to your needs and focus on that.
For some people, demotivation is the killer. A reminder of why you’re working towards your goal might help you to battle this.
What will your New Year’s resolution be?
Whether your New Year's resolution is to be happy or to stop drinking, there are tips that you can use. Your goal can be anything you like. Just remember to be SMART. Choose a New Year's resolution for 2022 that you care about. Make sure it's realistic, specific, and measurable.
For larger goals, break them down into more manageable chunks. Dividing more substantial ambitions will help you from becoming overwhelmed and keep you on track to succeed.
Whatever you decide, stay positive! You can do it, and you will.
Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58 (4), 397- 405
Norcross, J. C., Vangarelli, D. J. (1988). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of substance abuse, 1 (2), 127- 134
Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PloS one, 15 (12): e0234097
Avishai, A., Conner, M., Sheeran, P. (2019). Setting Realistic Health Goals: Antecedents and Consequences. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 53 (12), 1020- 1031
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