Todd Dewett | December 28, 2018
I’m going to the gym! I will save more money! These are two very common New Year’s resolutions. They sound wonderful, right? The problem is that while millions make resolutions each year, only about one fifth reach their goal and make it stick.
Good news – research does suggest a few behaviors used by people who are successful with resolutions. First, they tend to avoid tempting situations that might lead them astray. Thus, you really shouldn’t go to a smoky bar to meet friends while you’re trying to quit smoking. Next, they remember to use self-rewards when they are clearly earned. For example, buying new clothes after dropping two sizes. Finally, they create reasonable resolutions. Turns out our self-efficacy (i.e., how much we believe in our ability) plays a big role in our success and it remains stronger in the face of reasonable resolutions compared to enormously difficult ones.
I think this is all sound advice, but I believe you should consider two more very important tactics if you wish to maximize your odds. The first concerns perspective. Very often people frame the resolution they are chasing as a negative thing to be eliminated. Much less common, and radically more useful, are positive frames. Why would you want to lose a certain amount of weight when you could be claiming a healthier body and stronger mindset?
Think about this recent huge success story. Many people have purchased the Apple Watch, Fitbit, or similar devices. You have to count those awesome steps! The goal, the mantra, the marketing efforts, the social media posts – they all seem to coalesce around “getting your steps!” People everywhere are comparing steps to see who has more. They have become a highly valued positive outcome. Can you imagine how unsuccessful this product category would have been if the slogan was, “Stop being a lazy,” or, “Win the fight against fat?”
Let’s make this personal for you. You could say that you wish to lose thirty pounds. Or, you could say that you intend to reclaim a healthy balanced diet. In this example, not only is a positive frame used, but a specific targeted outcome is defined. It did not leave the means undefined, nor did it over promise by suggesting you would start jogging, become a vegan, and get a least ten hours of sleep every night (recall the importance of goal size and self-efficacy).
Or how about money? You could say you are going to save more money. That is always challenging, and “saving” and “money” are heavy, if not somewhat negative ideas for many of us. So, let’s try an overtly positive frame. You are going to start a home down payment fund, own your car out right, or secure that promotion at work. The same general issue might be driving you, but these positive motivational perspectives are much more helpful.
Okay, the second idea concerns to whom you speak about your resolution. Typically, we share them with friends and family. The thinking goes like this – if I share my goal with others I will be more likely to be successful. I know I don’t want them to see me fail (a negative driver, a thing we wish to avoid) and I know some of them will check up on me to keep me honest (another negative driver).
I don’t think the traditional approach is bad per se, but I can certainly imagine a more productive strategy. Keep it to yourself. Craft a wonderful, positively framed resolution, and just get started. Don’t tell anyone. The idea is that it is immensely more fun and satisfying to share results instead of promises. Do you want to motivate others while chasing your goals? Great. Tell them you reached your goal, not that you plan to achieve the goal. Sharing can be spectacular, especially when working with another person chasing the same goal. Sometimes, however, it’s best to focus on results, not promises.
Goals are wonderful. New Year’s resolutions are a special type of goal married to the beginning of a fresh twelve months. Because they are special, they deserve your best effort. Remember to avoid temptations, to reward yourself, and to form reasonable resolutions. Most importantly, be sure to adopt a strong positive frame, and consider breaking from tradition by not telling everyone what you plan to do. Just get to work on your righteous resolution. Good luck and Happy New Year!