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Opinion: Make your New Year resolutions last

I often get a renewed sense of energy in January and will start to think of all the things I’d like to get done or changes I’d like to make in my life. That’s pretty common for most people I know as we tend to look forward to the year ahead with anticipation and an expectation that the coming 12 months will be better than the previous. 

But, experience tells us it doesn’t always work out that way does it?

For most of us, resolutions fizzle out within weeks, leaving us feeling defeated and discouraged. We often berate ourselves for that, but the reality is, life is busy and stressful and meaningful change actually takes planning and effort.

Research on this issue says the main problem with the idea of New Year resolutions is that they are often vague and unrealistic.

So what is the answer?

Goals like “lose weight,” “exercise more,” or “be happier” lack specificity, making it challenging to create a clear path to success. Research in the field of psychology, particularly goal-setting theory, emphasises the importance of setting SMART goals. You’ve probably heard of that acronym before, and you may well use it in your day to day business, but have you applied it to your personal life?

SMART stands for – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By defining resolutions with these criteria, we can enhance their chances of success by creating a plan that is doable.

As an example, say I come up with a resolution that simply says “lose weight”.  A much better one would be “lose 5 kilos by the 31st March using a combination of regular exercise and a balanced diet.” 

The second one is more specific and provides me with a clear target and timeframe for achieving it. This approach aligns with research findings that suggest setting realistic and attainable goals increases motivation and perseverance.

Another critical factor in successful resolution achievement is the power of incremental change. 

Many resolutions fail because we attempt radical overhauls of habits almost instantly and underestimate the challenge of sustaining such drastic changes. Behavioral science supports the idea that small, consistent changes are more likely to lead to lasting results. Instead of committing to an hour of intense exercise daily, consider starting with a manageable 20 minutes and gradually increasing over time. This approach aligns with research on habit formation, emphasising the importance of small, sustainable adjustments for long-term success.

Another strategy involves sharing your goals with with friends and family, or joining communities with similar objectives. This can provide accountability and encouragement. A study published in the American Society of Training and Development found that individuals are 65% more likely to meet a goal after committing to someone else. Leveraging social connections can turn resolutions into shared journeys, increasing the likelihood of success.

So the upshot is, if we want to make meaningful change and not see our goals fail, then setting achievable and specific goals, incremental changes, and social support may be the answer.

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