How should you go about making this year’s resolutions so that you ACTUALLY achieve all you set out to do?
1. Structure your goals and make a plan
There’s no room for vagueness here, and if your expectations and aspirations are beyond your reach, you’ll soon find out. Behavioural scientists like to refer to a plan as ‘implementation intentions’. As soon as you start getting specific about your goals, it becomes an action strategy that places focus on ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’.
In so doing, the planning centre of your brain will be a little more satisfied. Planning builds memory which helps with forming habits for tasks you may not yet be all that familiar and comfortable with. The more specific you can get with your goal plan, the more likely you are to take it seriously and commit to it.
Specifics can also act as something of a deterrent for that side of ourselves we know all too well – the little voice that strikes up a negotiation, weighing up odds versus benefits, and sparking negativity.
Rather than trying to ignore this, take note of it and use it to balance your plan realistically. If the voice is screaming “but I really hate exercise” when you vow to do an hour of cardio each day, it’s going to get a whole lot louder and more difficult to ignore in the execution of your plan. Instead opt for three cardio sessions and throw in some dancing and a walk to make up the balance.
2. Be aware of your behaviour
The minute you give something up, you create a void. Such behavioural voids can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to shake a bad habit, like smoking or living on a fast food diet. The urge to fill the void may be a little more intense than usual, which could encourage you to resume the same behaviour if you give in to the neuronal networks of your brain.
If you’ve planned your goal strategy, you should have the controlling upper hand, having anticipated the void before the urge strikes. You’ll have prepared for the cues around you that stimulate your old habits as well, whether it be something in your home surroundings or a particular emotion. You must be ready to substitute the old behaviour with a new one (a positive and healthy one, that is) in order to stay out of trouble.
If saving is your resolution, and your old habit is regularly purchasing certain items which are expensive, do some homework and find cheaper replacements so that you do not spend unnecessarily but also get the satisfaction of buying the item you want. This will then begin to lessen the financial burden that may have been weighing you down. You could also replace unhealthy or sugary snacks with healthier options. Instead of breaking a snacking habit, you’re substituting a negative outcome with a more positive one.
In this way, you don’t lose the tangible or psychological reward that is usually attached to every kind of habit. A lack of a reward is partly the reason so many of us throw in the towel when trying to give up something – we miss the reward, in whatever shape or form it may be that gives us ‘instant gratification’.
Find ways to ensure that if you’re substituting a behaviour, that there is still some form of enjoyable reward. This may just give you the motivation and encouragement you need to succeed in achieving your goal.
3. Simplify things for yourself
If your resolution is too complex, you’re more likely to turf it before you even accomplish anything. It’s human nature to feel put off by things that confuse us. If there are multiple steps involved in achieving something, or our goals simply require too much to think about in order to get started, we can easily slip into “maybe not’ mode.
Simplify your goal as much as you can. Start by picking just one goal; don’t overwhelm yourself with a list of resolutions. One clear objective is far more achievable than trying to divide yourself up to accomplish several at one time. You’ve heard people say, “You can never please everybody all at once.”
The same principle applies here. You’ll fall short somewhere by juggling too many balls in the air at once. Pick one. You’ll be able to focus a whole lot better, and there’s less chance of a goal conflicting with another.
Then simplify the process. Make what you want to accomplish accessible and do what you can to incorporate your objectives into your life. If your goal uproots your days, you’re likely to be thrown off.
If your goal is to workout at the gym or go for a run at the park around the corner from the office after work, bring your workout gear with you in the morning. This way, you cut out the schlep of running around later in order to meet your objective.
If motivation is a weak point for you, book a personal trainer or sign up for a structured programme that monitors your nutritional intake and exercise routines. This way you can see the step-by-step progress you make as you go. It’s also a simple way to structure your future behaviour.
It can also be as simple as cutting up a credit card to reduce spending, or deactivating social media profiles to unplug from the virtual world. Find the source of what you want to change and implement a way to deter the behaviour you wish to be rid of.
You can even structure your goal in such a way that each step allows for some sense of accomplishment – like setting up mini-goals. Once you reach each stage and accomplish something small, the inevitable reward may motivate your further, getting you closer to the ultimate finish line.
It’s far easier to adjust to a new routine, goal or habit when it’s less complicated to achieve. Small things will make a difference.
Now go forth and confidently make that resolution! Make it with heart and conviction and you’ll see, this new year will see you reaching new heights.
Have a Happy New Year!