At the end of each year, many of us make resolutions and set goals for the New Year. Health, fitness and well-being resolutions tend to be the most popular ones – we want to exercise more, eat healthier, drink less, quit smoking and so on.
Come the 1st of January, we have the best intentions to achieve these goals. But, a year later few can share a success story. According to a recent Australian survey, 2 in 3 people failed their New Year’s resolutions.
Instead of examining the reasons for failing, let’s focus on those for succeeding, and identify five tips to make it more likely to achieve our resolutions and goals for 2019.
Set SMART goals and resolutions
Setting the right kind of goals is a key ingredient for success. But, what is the right kind of goals? As a psychiatrist, I often encourage people to focus on a specific problem and then set SMART goals to resolve that problem. The SMART acronym has several variations; here is the one I use: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-specific.
According to the Aussies, out of those who achieved their New Year’s resolutions, 3 in 4 reported that sharing their goals helped reach them. Sharing our goals, therefore making ourselves accountable, increases the likelihood of committing to our resolutions and ultimately reaching our goals.
It also allows for a support network. Having a support network will increase our chances of success even further. A few years ago, my resolution was to exercise on a regular basis. However, I’ve always found exercising boring and rarely felt motivated to hit the gym. To help me reach my goal, I shared it with a friend, who would often ask about my progress. Since I wanted to neither lie nor quit, I simply had to stick to my goal. This year, I hold myself accountable by publicly declaring my New Year’s resolution.
Being over-ambitious with your goals is akin to setting yourself for failure. When it comes to goal setting, there are two things we need to pay attention to.
First, the number of goals we set; too many and we risk not achieving any of them. Reading one book a week is a SMART goal for me. But, if I were to set 10 such goals, then they wouldn’t be achievable (and therefore not SMART), as they would be competing against each other for my time.
Second, the goals ought to be within reach (achievable). A few years ago, I resolved to be reading one book a month. Last year, I read more than two books a month, so I know that my new goal is within my reach.
Tip 4: Have a plan
A new goal can often seem daunting especially once the enthusiasm wears off (which can happen much sooner than you think). Circumstances get on the way, motivation levels drop, and the temptation to quit may be too difficult to resist. Having a plan, however, can be a good way to keep us on track. Rather than relying on remembering our goal, or finding the time or the motivation, it is much better to plan our steps in advance; this will help turn our goal to a habit, and this will make it easier to continue.
For example, my goal of reading one book a week may seem quite daunting at a first glance. However, my plan is to read on my daily commute to work (2 hours a day x 4 times a week = 8 hours of reading a week).
Keep track and review your goals and resolutions
Finally, it is important to keep track of your progress towards reaching your goal. I personally prefer keeping an old-fashioned diary (with the books that I read). Last but not least, at the end of the year, I reflect on the year gone by, review my progress and re-set my goals for the next year.
Dr Alex Chatziagorakis is a London-based consultant psychiatrist and a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.