New Year's resolutions can be tricky.
Too often, people are expected to make enormous, abrupt changes to their daily lives. More often than not, these attempts fail. Why? Because habits take time to take hold. One widely-cited academic study indicates that making or breaking habits takes an average of 66 days.
The goal, therefore, should not be to expect to be a new person by mid-January. It will lead only to disappointment, frustration, and the likelihood that you'll be too discouraged to invest the time you need to achieve your goals.
Instead, take small steps, stay realistic, and cultivate sustainable healthy habits that feel less like a major disruption to your life and more like a natural fit. Here are some practical ways to improve your success rate.
1. Be realistic
This is at the foundation of all habitual success. Don't expect to go from couch potato to climbing Mount Everest in 10 days. Don't expect to lose 100 pounds by summer. Instead, really think about a goal that would push yourself out of a comfort zone while still being doable.
2. Be public
This suggestion can be difficult for many people, but it's also hugely beneficial. When you talk about your goal with friends and family — or even with just one confidante — you become more accountable. Saying out loud what you hope to accomplish (and writing it down) has been shown to elevate success rates significantly.
3. Be forgiving
If at first you don't succeed... don't beat yourself up. We're human. Slip-ups happen. You may decide to eat a healthy breakfast every day, only to be done in by temptation when your co-worker brings doughnuts to the office. But you are in control of what happens after you indulge. The surest way to undo any progress you've made is to allow momentary setbacks to become spirals.
4. Be precise
In other words, be as specific as possible when making a goal. It's good to want to "exercise more." It's more effective to plan to "exercise after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays." The more precise your goal, the easier it is to plan your actions, measure them, and track progress.
5. Be diligent
Not just in sticking with the new habit, but also in recording your progress. Keep a food diary or fitness log or sleep journal or whatever kind of record is most relevant to your goal. This way, you're keeping the action in your mind even when you aren't performing it.
6. Be open
Ask for support. There are resources and people out there who can help you, no matter what goal you choose. Their expertise can give you critical strategic tools. Their insight can keep you realistic and resilient, especially if and when things don't go as planned. Everyone benefits from advice and emotional support.
7. Be SMART
One widely-used roadmap to accomplishing goals, which sums up many of these ideas, is the SMART plan. It refers to the pursuit of objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. If your new habits check these boxes, you'll be in a much better position to see them through.
8. Be early
There's no need to wait for January 1. It's not a race. But the sooner you start getting serious about a goal, the sooner you can apply these tactics, observe progress, and create the momentum you need to accomplish even more.