Objectively speaking, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the first of January. The sky doesn’t turn purple, the people around you don’t sprout horns, and mangoes continue to be a seasonal fruit instead of the evergreen blessing they were born to be. The first of January is just like any other day.
Despite this, we put this date on a pedestal. With the new year comes a new us. We rinse 2017 free of all its dirt and grime (adding extra detergent to really scrub those low points of the year out) and emerge triumphantly with a squeaky clean, blank canvas for 2018. We pledge to change our behaviour and reinvent ourselves, formalising the commitment through a new year’s resolution. We begin work in earnest to pick up new habits (start saving), kick old ones out (quit smoking) or modify existing proclivities (drink less coffee). In short, we want to become better versions of ourselves than who we were in 2017.
Studies suggest that new year resolutions are especially significant to us, and hold more weight than other personal goals we set. Additionally, people with resolutions tend to demonstrate much higher rates of success with their goals than those without resolutions.
Given this, here are some hacks for making sure your resolutions stick with you and don’t disappear from your radar two weeks from now:
You know yourself better than anyone else. So, set specific goals that you know are achievable. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. Breaking down highly ambitious goals into more manageable bite-size milestones will not only help you feel good about achieving those milestones, but you may also feel less guilty if you sometimes fall off the wagon.
Everyone knows that rewards can be a good motivator and can keep you engaged through your resolution. Sometimes the goal itself is the reward (the healthy lifestyle you acquire once you exercise). Sometimes the reward needs to be manufactured (losing a few kilos to fit into your favourite pair of jeans). A recent study found that immediate, intrinsic rewards (example: enjoyment gained from learning new things while studying) were better predictors of persistence at resolutions compared to delayed rewards (example: doing well in the exam)
Publicise your resolutions
By broadcasting your intentions to the whole world, you’re subtly adding social pressure to yourself to stick to the goals. The “question-behaviour effect” – where merely being asked by others about our intentions can influence our behaviour – is put into action.
Find a buddy
Two’s company and three is… also company, at least in the case of resolutions. Executing goals with others helps you support each other to stay on track, and also adds a layer of accountability (“we’re in this together, so I can’t goof off”).
Be kind to yourself
It’s okay if you slip up sometimes. You don’t have to strive for perfection all the time, and neither do you have to give up on your resolution. However, if you’re slipping up often, maybe it is a sign that your goal is not the right fit and needs to be revised into something more manageable.
Good luck with your resolutions, and if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. If you’re still unsuccessful, there’s always 2019 to look forward to!
The author is a psychologist and management consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org