4 Tips To Help You Stick To Your New Year Resolutions
January 6, 2021
Since we are still in week 1 of the new year, I am inclined to write about the New Year Resolutions that most people I know have made going into 2021.
Numerous studies indicate that between 60% to 90% of people give up on their resolutions within the first two months of the year. (US News & World Report)
Most of the new year resolutions are personal growth related- losing weight, becoming organized, waking up early, quit smoking, Reading more, etc.
What fascinates me is this. Why do so many of us fail on personal resolutions and goals where the actions are entirely within our individual control?
Learning from different sources, I now have a sense of what some of the reasons are for why it is difficult to stick to our new year resolutions.
There Is A Problem With The Way We Define Our Resolutions.
William Powers was a medical physicist and a scholar of theoretical psychology postulated the Motivational Hierarchy model that looks something like this.
According to this model, all human beings have a vision of an ideal version of ourselves that we define through a set of “BE” goals. We want to BE a good parent, BE wealthy, BE fit, BE successful, etc. The BE goals that stem from the ideal vision we have of ourselves are directional and vague. Unfortunately, with vague goals, it is impossible to know whether we are progressing or not. These BE goals therefore lead into a set of DO goals and Motor Control goals(we can call these ACT goals) as the picture above describes.
If our personal resolutions are a form of the vague BE goals, we are bound to fail.
If the goal is important, break it down to something quantifiable. These are the DO and ACT goals. I am showing below a more simplistic version of the Powers Motivational Hierarchy model.
Make your personal resolution specific and quantifiable.
We Depend On Our Willpower To Stick To Our Resolutions- This Is Futile.
Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, talks about research by Roy Baumeister which conclusively established that human willpower draws on a limited pool of mental energy that depletes through the day and gets replenished the next day. All other voluntary human efforts- cognitive, emotional, or physical- also draw on the same limited pool of mental energy every day.
This has one big implication. Any goal we undertake competes for willpower with all our other day to day activities. A concentrated effort on one activity will have a direct bearing on our ability to exercise self control on some other activity.
Imagine you are on a no-sugar diet. At work, you have had to sit through an intense and energy-sapping meeting at the office. Later, you get back home, and you see your son eating ice cream. You are likely to give in to the temptation of eating the ice cream because the meeting sapped the limited mental energy you have. You cannot exert self-control (which also feeds off the same pool of mental energy) to refrain from eating the ice cream.
If your new year resolutions require you to draw on your will power, you are in trouble.
Knowing what I know today about our willpower being a limited resource, I realize that it is futile to take on multiple new year resolutions. It is better to start with one or, at best, two new personal development goals.
Start with one goal ideally or two goals at best.
We Try To Go Big And Struggle To Keep Up
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about small incremental actions and 1% improvement daily. While the goal in itself might be ambitious, the secret is in starting small instead of looking to take massive action. Small actions also have the advantage of not feeding too much of your limited pool of willpower.
I can share a personal example here. In late 2020 around November, I wanted to strengthen my core and started doing the Plank Exercise daily. I started doing the Plank for 30 seconds on day one and slowly kept increasing the duration by 1 sec a day. This morning, I could hold the plank position for 2 minutes and 15 seconds.
An activity if you do 1% better every day, in one full year, you will be 37% better thanks to the power of compounding.
The equation looks like this – (1.01)^365=-37.78%
Start small on your and and progressively improve.
In summary, the secret to having a good shot of not falling off the radar on our resolutions requires us to consider three crucial factors.
- Set quantifiable goals.
- Take on one or at best two goals. No more.
- Don’t overreach. Whatever be the goal- start small.
Reflect Daily About Your Personal Goals/Resolutions.
On most days, our awareness is sucked out responding to our environment. We don’t give ourselves time to think about the resolutions and goals. And, when we do take time to reflect, we focus on where we are and where we want to be. This self-reflection process helps us stay true to our goals and resolutions.
Moments of reflection are the antidote for the overdose of distraction we encounter every day. Self-reflection ensures that we don’t miss on our goals in the humdrum of our daily distractions and then later look back with regret at the broken promises we made to ourselves.
To make the process really foolproof, I track my personal development goals in my daily journal.
Last Word- It’s Ok To Miss Your Goals.
As I end this rather longish post, I want to leave you with this final thought. Your personal goals and resolutions are your choice, and no one else’s. If you miss on your goals for any reason, don’t make the mistake of making it a judgment of your self-worth. The fact that you have a new year resolution means you have started on your personal development journey. Failing to hit your goals just means that you have taken a break in the journey of growth. The journey will continue whenever you are ready again.