HOW TO STICK TO A RESOLUTION USING PSYCHOLOGY
The New Year is upon us – resolutions are coming. Gyms are about to be flooded with new membership applications, Duolingo is about to make a killing with people trying to learn a new language, and nicotine gum sales are about to go way up. Some people make it a point to find resolutions to stick to, while others think it’s a complete waste of time. So, do New Year’s resolutions actually work? And how can we use science to set ourselves up for success?
Interestingly enough, psychology tells us that people do a whole lot better with goals at the beginning of something, like the day after a birthday or the beginning of a week, month, or year. So yes, resolutions have the potential to be successful, and the beginning of a year is hypothetically a great time to start. It takes planning and elbow grease and can be done. So here are three tricks, backed by cognitive psychology, which can help get you started.
Vision Boards – Vision boards are just what they sound like, boards or posters to keep track of your goals with pictures and affirmations. Visualizing something can help bring it into existence. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I set a goal and six months later think, oops I think I forgot I was trying to do that. Having a vision board hung up in a space you visit often, like a bedroom or fridge, can help to keep you on track. Even better if you add positive affirmations and mantras. It doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming project – my recommendation is to grab a poster board from the Dollar Tree, scissors, and some magazines.
Keep it SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reliable, and Timely. If you can checkmark each of these boxes when crafting your goals, you’re putting yourself in the best position to actually achieve them. Pay special attention to goals being Measurable and Timely – if you can’t measure it, you can’t track progress (i.e., “I want to be a good person”), and if there’s no timeline, you’re lessening your chance of being successful (i.e., “I want to lose weight”; how much and by when?).
Speaking It Into Existence – Walt Disney’s famous quote is, “If you can dream it, you can do it”. Maybe not a huge surprise, but goals which are not set cannot be achieved. Even further, you can set a goal but have internal dialogue which prevents you from actually achieving it. For instance, if you think to yourself, I’d like to lose weight, but I don’t know if I can, then you’re already setting yourself up not to achieve it. Monitoring our internal thoughts has been shown by research to be hugely beneficial. So a more helpful thought for someone who wants to lose weight would be, I’d like to lose weight, and I know I can do it, it just takes time and effort, which I commit to.
One last comment – you may have heard that “practice makes perfect”, but I prefer the phrase “practice makes progress”. Any progress that you make toward your goals is to be celebrated. You may not be where you want to be yet, but you’re not where you were. Perspective can help keep us going even when the going gets tough. Hopefully you’ve found these tips useful. Wishing you perseverance and joy as the New Year approaches (or for whenever you might be reading this), and as always, stay mindful!