Many of us make resolutions this time of year. Some estimates say more than 40%, in fact. But our chances of keeping them is discouraging: University of Scranton research suggests that only 8% actually reach the goals they set for themselves. This tells us at least two important things: 1. Many of us want to make changes in our lives and ourselves and 2. Making and sustaining changes can be very difficult.
When we feel dissatisfied with something in our lives or some part of ourselves, it is healthy for us to seek change. In fact, it feels instantly better when we tell ourselves that we’re going to do things differently from now on.
Our motivation is highest as we begin to plan how we will make changes and when we start doing things in a new way. Novelty, it seems, is a good motivator for us. But our motivation tends to fade as time passes. The novelty wears off and leaves us in the middle of a lot of hard work. It becomes increasingly difficult to resist falling back into old habits and patterns. So how do we get our motivation back when we most need it?
Motivation rises when we see positive results from our efforts. We can use this knowledge to improve our odds of reaching our own goals. Here are some useful strategies and coping skills you can apply now and in the future as you pursue you own resolutions:
Set goals that are concrete so you can easily see and track your progress. Remember, seeing your progress is a powerful motivator. For example, “I will walk 3 times per week for 3 minutes each time” is much more concrete than “I need to get more exercise.”
Frame your goals as positive and action oriented rather than about not doing something. “I will not get angry at my husband so much” is not nearly as helpful as “I will recognize when my husband does something that pleases me and tell him that I appreciate it.”
As tempting as it is to be ambitious, start small. If your resolution is too big, you will likely feel overwhelmed before you even start. So, if you want a cleaner, more organized house for the new year, start with just one room or maybe even one part of a room. If your resolution is to be a kinder person, start with treating just one person with more kindness.
Expect slip-ups. Recognize that change is a process that will involve set-backs. If it doesn’t, you’re not trying anything new or difficult. Success means learning to recognize a set-back as expected and temporary and persisting in your efforts despite it.
When you feel discouraged, remind yourself of your progress. Remember why it is important to you to meet your goals and that your persistence will pay off in the long run.
Make sure you have the tools and support you will need. For example, tell trusted others who can support you and hold you accountable about your goals. Another example: If your goal is to eat healthier, prepare in advance by getting rid of unhealthy, tempting foods and stock your kitchen with a fresh array of healthy choices.
Have a plan for what you will do when temptation strikes. Write it down. Evaluation your progress and adjust your goals accordingly at least every week.
Do not underestimate the difficulty of making real changes. Do not tell yourself “This shouldn’t be so hard.” Recognize it is hard and validate the efforts you are making.
Armed with these skills, believe in yourself and your ability to make the changes you want over time. You can do this!