Maybe you bit off more than you could chew when you made your New Year’s resolutions–and you’re just noticing that now. Don’t worry, it’s fine to pare down so you can devote all your energy to the goals that really matter to you. But figuring out which ones you’ll feel okay about discarding isn’t easy. Here’s how to do it.
If you try to decide which goals you care about the most, you still might fail. Unfortunately, figuring out which resolutions to ditch and which to double down on doesn’t hinge exclusively on their importance to you. It’s also about deciding which are most achievable. The good news, though, is that “achievable” doesn’t mean unambitious. For instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2016 resolution was to run 365 miles over the course of the year–a goal that he reached by July.
According to Dr. Ritu Trivedi-Purohit, a clinical psychologist in private practice in the Chicago area, three factors increased his likelihood of success. Your first step to ditching the right resolutions is to size each one up according to the same criteria:
1. It can be broken down into modest bits. On a day-to-day basis, Zuckerberg’s goal was actually pretty small. 365 miles is a lot of miles, but not if you spread them out–by running one mile a day, or a roughly 10-minute jog.
“Keep the resolution simple and positive,” Ritu suggests. “For example, it is easier to add one fruit and one vegetable to your daily nutrition than changing your entire diet.”
Making a new habit stick isn’t easy. Unfortunately, many of the strategies that work for one person may not work for another, so when you try to make multiple habit changes all at once, you’re playing with so many variables that you’re bound to fall short on some.
2. It hinges on one new activity or behavior change, not several. Zuckerberg didn’t need to adopt more than one new habit in order to succeed. To reach his resolution, he committed to just a single new activity: running. When you start small and take baby steps, it makes a world of difference.
3. You can tell others about it. If your resolution is personal or a little embarrassing to talk about, you may face longer odds of achieving it. When Zuckerberg committed to his running resolution, he shared it publicly and then built a community that would hold him accountable.
“Share your intention with someone who will hold you accountable, or better yet, will commit to make a change with you,” Ritu suggests. You may not even have to do that in person, as Zuckerberg found. “You might find that joining an online group can help you find renewed inspiration, support, and accountability.”
Maybe there’s a really great goal you’ve set your sights on, but as the weeks and months tick by, you’re realizing there are some serious obstacles to making real progress on it. Maybe your child gets sick or you get a new boss, or something else unexpected happens. Things like that could throw a wrench in your plans.
So when you’re figuring out which resolutions you may have to dump, make a list of reasons (hell, call them excuses if you like!) for why you haven’t made as much progress as you’d hoped. Then determine which of those reasons are the most intractable. Which would take the greatest effort or might wreak the most havoc on your life or work duties to try and remove–and which wouldn’t be so hard to wipe out?
Once you’re able to list the obstacles that are in your way, you’re already closer to achieving the right ones.
Emotional intelligence and personal development expert Neeta Bhushan says starting the year off with a positive attitude will set you up for success, regardless of your goals. But as soon as you start to fall short, your attitude can begin to tank. Don’t let it.
“Regularly check in with yourself and keep yourself on track,” Bhushan suggests. “Give yourself the flexibility and freedom to set yourself up for success to achieve your resolutions.” Your goals can change, or even fall in number, just as long as your mind-set stays positive.
Not only do optimists make more money, at least according to one study, but psychologists have found that a positive attitude is self-reinforcing, especially when it comes to goal achievement. By surrounding yourself with like-minded people who are as confident in your odds of success as you are, you can insulate yourself from naysayers.
So it doesn’t hurt to just go with your gut: If you feel more optimistic about one resolution than another, it may be worth sticking with that one.
Christina Nicholson is a former TV reporter and anchor who now owns and operates a full-service public relations firm, Media Maven. She is getting ready to launch “Master your PR,” an online course that teaches small business owners and marketers how to handle public relations on their own.