Research shows that most New Year’s resolutions fail, but that doesn’t mean yours has to. Here are some tips from social science that can increase your chances of success:
Set a goal that is achievable, but also allow for some wiggle room. Example: Set a goal of exercising 3 times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – and use the weekend as a catch-up time in case you miss one. This is much better than going in saying you’ll exercise every day, then missing a session and giving up entirely. (By the way, we call this the What the Hell Effect – the idea of slipping a little and then just giving up entirely. For example, “I broke my diet and ate a brownie so now I might as well eat all of them.”)
Commit to something in advance, not at the critical moment. Examples: sign up for a class and pay for it in advance (not right before you’re planning to go). Look at your cafeteria’s lunch menu in the morning before you are hungry and decide what you are going to get. Don’t wait until you walk into the cafeteria and smell the pizza.
We’re social creatures. Find a way to incorporate completing your goal with others. This could be a family member, roommate, or even a co-worker. You’ll have more fun along the way!
Share your goal with others. Examples: Is your goal to exercise 3 times a week? Print out a calendar and put it on your fridge and have everyone see you mark your progress. Or commit to sharing your Shapa color on social media every Saturday.
Many of our goals bring us good things in the long run. Saving money means we’ll have a more secure future. Exercising means we’ll have better health in the future. Sadly, the future is often not that motivating to us. We are motivated by the now.
The opportunity here is to figure out a regard that gives you something now. Let’s take exercising. Imagine you take your favorite show on Netflix and only let yourself watch it while you’re on the treadmill. The real reason we should exercise is for our future health, but the immediate, motivating reason we do it is because we can watch our show. We call this doing the right thing for the wrong reason, or temptation bundling. (Note: if your goal is to lose weight, the key here is not to come up with a food reward. Be creative, think about other things you enjoy to serve as the reward.)