If you’re like the majority of Americans, you’re probably thinking about making a New Year’s resolution. From losing weight to getting organized, spending less/saving more, and enjoying life to the fullest (last year’s top four resolutions), we often make grand plans every January.
Unfortunately, just 8% of us will be successful, according to Statistic Brain. But your odds don’t have to be so disheartening. We’ve compiled the best advice that can put you in the 8% that make it happen. Good luck!
Instead of focusing on what you want, describe the action as complete, says May McCarthy, author of The Path to Wealth.
“Often you’ll hear somebody say, ‘I want to lose 10 pounds’ or ‘I want to be debt-free,’” she says. Instead, phrase your goal in a way that enables your subconscious and intuition to show up and help, says McCarthy. “Describe the goal as already completed and use gratitude,” she says. “If you’ve already met your goal, you might say, ‘I’m so grateful to be physically fit, in a trim, toned, healthy body.’
When you describe a goal with gratitude, you light up the front part of brain. Studies have shown that this part of the brain enhances focus and helps you notice more possibilities to succeed.”
New Year’s resolutions are often big announcements–such as losing 50 pounds or “Konmari-ing” your house by January 15–and this stems from the desire to have a clean slate free from all of our vices and shortcomings, says Jonathan M. Jackson, director of the Center for Psychological Services and Practicum Training at the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies.
“It feels good simply to assert that you will do new things or do things differently,” he says. “It’s like the U.S. president’s State of the Union address where he sets a worthy but impossibly ambitious agenda for the year ahead.”
Instead of attempting sweeping reforms, you’ll be more successful if you commit to modest, measurable improvements that might be achieved and maintained over time, says Jackson. Break big goals into smaller milestones, and consider setting goals throughout the year instead of grand gestures on January 1.
Resolution makers often write down their goals and get excited about them for two weeks, says McCarthy. “Then the goal goes into a drawer and they go back to flowing through life, reacting to whatever happens to show up,” she says.
Instead, successful people use the power of repetition to create new habits. “People struggle with goals because they don’t understand how the brain works,” says McCarthy. “You have old behaviors you’ve come to this stage in life with; they are deep-rooted neuropathways that can be very strong, like mind grooves. If your new goal is bigger or different than those you’ve made before, you have to create new beliefs and new neuropathways to get there.”
Start out every morning reviewing your goal, reading it out loud with emotion, and anchoring it within you, McCarthy suggests. “When you go out and start your workday, your goals are at the forefront,” she says. “You are essentially training your brain for success.”
You’ll be more likely to attain your resolution goal if you connect with people who have already achieved it. Finding people, stories, and situations that are similar to the goals you want to achieve brings a sense of familiarity to the goal, and that can be essential to sticking with your resolution, says McCarthy.
“This helps you practice the technique, see what life can be like if you achieve it, and raise your mental equivalent,” she says. “When you see people being successful at your goal, it helps you think, ‘If they can do that, I can do that, too.’”
Familiarity can also come when you recycle a former resolution that you haven’t been able to complete, adds Jackson. “We know that the more often someone attempts to change a habit, the more likely they are to succeed,” he says. “The maxim, ‘If at first you don’t succeed . . . ’ is apt with New Year’s resolutions.”
Identify an important reason why you are resolving to change something in your life, suggests Tim Bono, assistant dean and lecturer on psychological and brain science at Washington University in St. Louis.
“For example, ‘I’m doing it for my kids,’ or ‘This is to improve my overall health,’” he says. “Research shows that reminding yourself of that will keep you motivated.”
The reason most resolution makers don’t stick with their goal is that they lack self-control. Before you set out after success, think about the potential barriers that might get in the way, says Bono. “You might get lazy, tired, forget, or lured away by another temptation,” he says. “Then identify contingency plans for how you will respond in those moments.”
If you do succumb to temptation, don’t make the failure big, says Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits—to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.
“I remind myself, ‘A stumble may prevent a fall,’” she writes in her blog. “Because of the colorfully named ‘what the hell’ phenomenon, a minor stumble often becomes a major fall; once a good behavior is broken, we act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken by a little or a lot . . . It’s important to try to fail small, not big.”
Having an accountability partner can increase your chance for sticking to your resolution, according to a study at the Dominican University of California. More than 70% of the participants who wrote down their goals and then sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement. For participants who created a goal and kept it to themselves, just 35% were successful.
Gail Matthews, psychology professor and lead author of the study, explained: “[The results provide] empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals.”