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How to make your New Year resolutions happen

Goal setting image Happy New Year! And welcome to the season for New Year resolutions. I expect that my local gym will be full and that lots of people will be watching not only their portion size but what’s in their portions too. Until at least February… Apparently most New Year resolutions fail to go beyond even the first two weeks of January.

So why do so many promises to ourselves fail?  One cause may well be the language we use when setting our resolution. Forget setting SMART objectives – these were designed for project milestones to be achieved rather than the motivational goals that your New Year resolution deserves. Instead, I recommend that you follow our simple yet effective method of setting a well-formed outcome – lots of positive language and focus but definitely no Gantt charts!

  • State your goal in the positive. For example avoid using phrases such as I want to lose weight. This will only remind you of your negative situation. Instead use words and phrases such as I will become fitter, I will run a 5k race by….
  • Make sure the goal is in your control. This will avoid you setting yourself up to fail. After all, you can only have influence over a goal that you’re in control of.
  • Describe when you will know when you have achieved your goal. Ask yourself what you will see, hear and feel when you have succeeded. Imagine yourself having completed your goal and pay attention to the sensations you experience. These will become psychological anchors for you to focus on. For example, imagine yourself being fitter and how this will manifest itself.  This can be an image, a sound or a feeling – or even a combination.
  • Make sure the goal is clearly defined. Short statements work best. Use clear and positive language. Write your goal down and display it so it remains in your focus.
  • Confirm you have the resources to achieve. These may be physical items (such as the right running gear) but can also be the emotional support of those around you. Positive encouragement will help you create that important feel good factor that will help progress take place.
  • Take an ecology check. Ask yourself, “Do I really want this?” This will make sure that your goal sits comfortably with your own personal vision and values. This will be critical to keeping up your motivation. If you don’t believe or really want the change then it will never happen.   
  • Identify the first step to take and when. Make a public commitment. The science of persuasion (ref: Dr Robert Cialdini) tells us that we are more likely to fulfil a commitment if we tell others what we are going to achieve. Also, look for a quick win to make progress and increase sustain your motivation.

These simple steps do not apply only to New Year resolutions. They also apply to any personal change that we want to make at any time. Change is for the better. We just need to make sure that it happens.

Paul Beesley, senior consultant, Beyond Theory

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