It’s that time of year when many of us get motivated to make ourselves better—healthier, wealthier, wiser, or just different—in the new year. Roughly six in 10 of us make New Year’s resolutions, according to a 2016 Harris poll.
But following through on those goals isn’t easy. Roughly half of those who are earnestly vowing to make improvements in 2018 are likely dusting off the same list they had last year. So if you want to actually accomplish those goals—or at least make a dent in them—by this time next year, use these five approaches.
When you’re sitting down to make a list of things you’d like to accomplish in the new year, it’s tempting to view the world as your oyster. Lose 20 pounds. Check. Get a new job or promotion. Check. Run a marathon. Check.
But to actually make progress, it’s best to be selective about your goals, says Steve Levinson, PhD, and president and CEO of Behavioral Dynamics, Inc. in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, and author of The Power to Get Things Done (Whether You Feel Like It or Not). Each change has a certain “cost” attached to it. And if the ultimate cost is too much in terms of time, effort, or the motivation required to make the change, we’re more likely to fail. He advises asking a series of questions:
- What’s it going to cost in terms of effort?
- What other things am I going to have to give up?
- What other things do I have on my plate right now that will interfere with this?
- Even though I have clearly decided that this would benefit me to make this particular change, is it realistic?
- Is it worth what it’s going to cost me?
That’s not to say that goals that require a lot of time or effort are not worthwhile. But Levinson says you’ll need to think through how important the goal is to you and be prepared to make the sacrifices necessary for success.
Look at Your Why
Similarly, you need to look at why you want to achieve those goals and ensure that they’re in alignment with your big-picture goals and what you value, says Rachel Hershenberg, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta and author of Activating Happiness: A Jump-Start Guide to Overcoming Low Motivation, Depression, Or Just Feeling Stuck. For example, wanting to learn a new language is an admirable goal, but one that could easily be discarded when time gets scarce. However, if learning a new language is part of a bigger goal, such as changing to a career where being bilingual is an advantage or working for a few years overseas, then the need to accomplish it becomes more immediate.
“Not that there’s a magical number to three, but I encourage people to come up with their top three valued areas for right now, and then really try to make decisions and [focus] their daily and monthly calendars to be consistent with those valued areas,” she says.
Call In Reinforcements
The “go-it-alone” method of goal reaching isn’t usually the best approach. A 2015 study from Dominican University of California in San Rafael found that achievement was influenced by writing down goals, committing to taking the actions necessary to get them done, and having accountability. In the study, more than 70% of participants who sent weekly updates to a friend either completely accomplished their goal or were more than halfway there, versus 35% who didn’t write down their goals and kept them to themselves.
Accountability helps many people achieve their goals, says Los Angeles-based health psychologist Gretchen Kubacky. “Ask for some accountability and reinforcement from anybody who’s willing,” she advises. You might find that having regular check-ins with an accountability partner who keeps you focused is the right approach. Sometimes, a spouse or friend can give you the accountability you need. Social media-based or other groups can give you support and also provide gentle peer pressure to achieve. Mastermind groups or coaches can also help motivate you by having to answer to someone about your progress.
Levinson adds that if you need other kinds of help to achieve your goal—training, counseling, or specialized knowledge—work on identifying the best resource to give you what you need.
Give Yourself Credit
Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to accomplishing our goals is inside our own heads, says success coach Mike Pettigrew, author of Unlock Gratitude Now: Your 7 Keys to a Happier and More Successful Life. Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs are damaging and can actually prevent us from successfully accomplishing our goals.
“Our limiting beliefs are formed through our upbringing, our conditioning, the disappointments and failures we’ve had through life where we start to really believe we don’t have what it takes,” he says. Working on uncovering those limiting beliefs and overcoming them relieves a great deal of the effort in staying motivated to achieve our goals, he says.
Track Progress And Be Ready to Pivot
Breaking down goals into manageable steps helps prevent feeling overwhelmed, which often derails success, Kubacky says. And as you make progress on your goals, check in with yourself regularly. Are you on the path you want to follow? If not, it’s okay to pivot, she says.
“What if you are all gung-ho about this Couch to 5K program, and then you start, and you realize, ‘I hate running. This is the most miserable sport ever,’ but you’ve committed to it. You don’t have to carry it through just because you said you would,” she says. If you realize you’re on the wrong path, shift. There’s no sense sticking to a goal that isn’t getting you to where you want to go, she says.
Pettigrew recommends spending at least one hour each week working on your life plan—both plotting out the steps you’re going to take to move you toward your goals and taking stock of the progress you’ve made. “If everyone were to spend one hour planning their life each week, just one hour, their lives would be completely different,” he says.