It's that time of year again. And as we all sit down and make a list of habit-changing, self-improving, mood-boosting things we vow to do next year, there's no shortage of motivation to go around.
However, come the third or fourth week of January, most of us are caught singing an entirely different tune. In fact, just 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s goals, according to research from the University of Scranton.
So how can you defy those odds and actually achieve what you set out to do in 2016? Below, we've uncovered nine data-backed tips for fail-proofing your New Year's resolution.
We can't guarantee it'll be easy, but we can guarantee it'll be worth it.
9 Data-Backed Tips for Sticking to Your New Year's Resolution
1) Write out a plan.
Before I go to the grocery store, I always make a list. Not only does this help me avoid filling my cart with a bunch of junk, but it also helps me focus enough to speed up the process.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, clearly defining your intention can improve your success rate. In this particular study, researchers found that people who wrote down a strict plan for where and when they intended to exercise were more likely to follow through with the plan than those who didn't.
So if you want to stick to your goals this year, write them down. Start a journal, make a note in your phone, or use one of these handy to-do list apps to keep track and hold yourself accountable.
2) Break your goals down into micro-goals.
Saving up $365 dollars sounds hard, but what about saving one dollar a day for 365 days? Similarly, losing 100 pounds sounds pretty intense, but what if you were tasked with losing 10 pounds a month over 10 months?
Research on pricing tactics suggests that consumption is driven not by the actual cost of a product or service, but by its perceived cost. When we break down a price -- or, in our case, a goal -- into more manageable segments, it's easier to convince ourselves to go after it.
So if your goal is to learn a new language, for example, start by learning to count to 10. Working towards micro-goals will make the entire process seem more doable, and help you build the momentum you need to continue pushing forward.
3) Join forces with friends & family.
We've all heard the saying "strength in numbers" before, right?
According to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, participants who enrolled in a weight-loss program with friends were more likely to keep off the weight. Participants remained motivated to complete the program -- and maintain the weight loss -- thanks to the built-in social support.
But this doesn't have to be limited to dieting and exercise. If you want to read more, ask a few friends to start a bi-weekly book club. Want to learn how to code? Encourage a few friends to register for a night class with you. It'll keep you accountable and help you stay on track.
4) Tackle one goal at a time.
We're all guilty of multi-tasking. In fact, in the midst of writing this article, I've already checked my phone several times, replied to an email, changed my Spotify playlist, and got up to make coffee.
However, when it comes to actually succeeding at our resolutions, it's typically best to focus on checking off one box at a time. Bad or unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time, meaning it will also take time to replace them with healthy ones.
While we may think we're getting more accomplished by multitasking, we're never really doing tasks simultaneously. Instead, our brain is forced to switch tasks quickly, which ultimately detracts from our efficiency, according to Psychology Today.
(Sounds like I should add this to my list of New Year's resolutions.)
5) Make a bet.
Let me start by saying that gambling is a bad (costly) habit. And while I wouldn't want to encourage you to pick up one habit while trying to get rid of another, making a friendly wager on the outcome of your New Year's resolution can serve as a powerful incentive to get you going.
This is a theory that states that people prefer to avoid losses more than acquiring gains. In other words, we're more deeply affected by losing than we are by gaining.
So if you really want to stick to your New Year's resolution, make a wager with one of your friends? It could be something as simple as buying them lunch every time you skip a gym day, flake on an event, overbook yourself at work -- whatever your goal may be.
6) Precommit to your goals.
Let's say you really want to focus on being more productive at work in the year ahead. When you're working on a project that doesn't require an internet connection, you have two choices:
Find a place to work without internet.
Stay in a place that has internet ... and trust yourself not to give in to temptation.
While the latter requires you to rely on your own willpower, the first option demonstrates precommitment: the ability to avoid temptation by eliminating the choice from the start.
Want to eat healthy? Do meal prep on Sunday for the whole week. Want to ease your smartphone addiction? Leave it behind when you don't really need it. It's simple.
7) Talk yourself through it.
Research suggests that tapping into your inner voice can serve as an effective way to restrain impulses and encourage motivation.
This could boil down to something as simple as telling yourself "Don't give up" when you're on the treadmill or reassuring yourself that "You've got this" before giving an important presentation.
By sidetracking our impulses, it's easier to keep pushing forward to complete the task at hand.
8) Monitor your glucose levels.
According to research from Florida State University, acts of self-control have the ability to deplete large amount of glucose -- and we're more likely to fail when attempting to exercise self-control if our glucose levels are low.
To keep your glucose levels stable through out the day, the above study suggests fueling the body with protein and complex carbohydrates.
So if you're feeling like you might break down and give in to temptation, try snacking on some Greek yogurt, grilled chicken, oats, peanut butter, beans, or peas.
9) Treat yo self.
If you've ever taken a psychology class at any level, you're probably familiar with the work of B.F. Skinner. He is perhaps best known for his research around operant conditioning -- the process of modifying behavior through the use of both positive and negative reinforcement.
In terms of achieving your New Year's resolutions, Skinner's research suggests that it's okay to treat yourself. In fact, it's encouraged.
Positive reinforcers -- like a sweet treat, shopping trip, or new piece of technology you've had your eye on -- help condition us to repeat a desired behavior. Just make sure you're not overindulging ... or using your vice as a reward. You don't want to slide back into the bad habits of yore.
Of course ... if you do happen to slip, you still have eight other science-backed techniques to help you tackle your goal once again.
What's your plan for sticking to your New Year's resolution? Share them with us in the comments section below.
Originally published Dec 23, 2015 6:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017