I am highly skeptical of New Year’s resolutions–to save money, to eat healthier, to stop smoking–and yet I still believe in them.
At our gym, we know that January is the worst month to work out. The machines that are usually free throughout the year will be filled with sweating, overzealous people who trudge through their workouts with grim determination. We jokingly refer to them as the “resolutions”–and wonder how long they will last. Some will stay for a few weeks. The rare few will last a month or more. Usually by early February, a handful of us “regulars” have the gym back to ourselves.
Being a data-driven person, I’ve checked the numbers, which show that 40% of all Americans make resolutions. But only 8% of people will keep them.
But still, I am a firm believer in self improvement. I don’t want to abandon my goals to eat healthier this year and exercise more. I also want to write the first draft of my new novel in 2015. So, what should I (and those of you who are like me) do?
First, let’s take a closer look at the numbers and the goals themselves. Why is the success rate so low? The experts say many people make common mistakes:
1. Their goals are unrealistic. The woman who told me that she was going to work out for 3 hours a day was doomed to fail.
2. Their goals are vague. People promise: “I’m going to get in shape.” Or, “I’m going to get a degree.” But the specifics are lacking and so the goals are more easily abandoned.
3. They lose faith. On the road of good intentions, people invariably hit “bumps.” They go off their diets and eat candy, or they spend too much for the latest iPhone. When people blame themselves and believe their willpower is weak, they falter and abandon their goals.
So, how can we reach our self-improvement goals?
1. Set realistic, specific goals. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to volunteer more,” resolve to dedicate a specific number of hours per week or per month to a specific organization.
2. Make sure the goals are measurable. So, instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight this year,” resolve to lose a specific number of pounds per month.
3. Keep your goals simple. Mix in some easy ones along with the harder ones. For example, include your resolution to try Indonesian food, along with your intention to manage stress.
4. And finally, keep the faith. Dr. Norcross, a clinical psychologist at Scranton University, points out that the low success rates in keeping resolutions are deceptive. In 2 longitudinal studies, he discovered that 46 percent of the people kept their resolutions for 6 months or longer. That number may seem low, but in fact, the chances of success are much higher once you formally articulate a resolution. So for those people who desired to make a change, but didn’t make a resolution, their success rate was dramatically lower. In fact, less than 10 percent attained their goals–as the chart below indicates.
So keeping all of this in mind, what are your resolutions going to be this year? Are they among the most popular resolutions made by Americans? (Yes, the United States government has apparently researched this too.) Here’s the list from the usa.gov website:
- Lose Weight
- Volunteer to Help Others
- Quit Smoking
- Get a Better Education
- Get a Better Job
- Save Money
- Get Fit
- Eat Healthy Food
- Manage Stress
- Manage Debt
- Take a Trip
- Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
- Drink Less Alcohol
What can you do to make your goals more measurable, specific, and realistic–and therefore more attainable? For example, I have resolved to manage my stress by practicing meditation for 15 minutes a day at least 3 times a week. (Every day would be great, but so far I haven’t been successful at attaining this goal.)
I wish you every success in attaining your self-improvement goals this year and encourage you to articulate them here as a way of verbalizing your intentions. Let me also extend a special thanks to you all for helping me realize my goal in 2014 to reach a wider audience here at Word Press. Your support has been marvelous. I am grateful to you all.