By: Paul Hsieh
I’ve already broken one of my New Year’s Resolutions, which was to get this column out at the beginning of January. Instead, it’s 3 weeks late. So depending on how you look at it, this probably makes me especially qualified (or unqualified) to talk about keeping one’s resolutions!
Most people have a pretty dismal record at sticking to their New Year’s Resolutions. According to the Washington Post, 20% of people have already abandoned their resolutions after one week. Research from University of Scranton shows that more than 30% abandon their resolutions after one month. More than 50% abandon them after 6 months. Eventually, only 8% of people achieve their stated resolution goals.
Forming new habits can be hard. And perhaps some resolutions made with the best of intentions truly are too burdensome to sustain. As the economists at Freakonomics have pointed out, it can be completely rational to quit a foolish or unrealistic goal.
New Year’s Resolutions dropoff curve. Via Dan Diamond, “Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It.” (Forbes, 1/1/2013)
Assuming you genuinely want to keep a rational resolution but your motivation is flagging, here are a few techniques that might help you achieve your goal. Not all of these may be suitable for every person; instead feel free to adopt those that make the most sense for your particular individual circumstances.
* Get an “Accountability Buddy”
Make an explicit deal with a friend or family member that you will report back to them at regular intervals about that diet or exercise plan. If your goal is to workout 20 minutes a day 4 times a week, then agree to check in with them every week (or more frequently) and say whether you kept your goal.
* Add a financial penalty for failing to keep a resolution
You could pledge to your accountability buddy that if you fail to meet your workout goal for that week, you owe him or her $10. (Your buddy is not allowed to tempt you to skip your workouts, however.)
Or you could publicly pledge that if you don’t adhere to your goals each month, then you will donate $50 to the campaign fund of the politician you most hate. Given the state of US politics, I’m sure most people can findsome candidate who fits that description.
* Engage in “temptation bundling”
As the Freakonomics podcast explains: “‘Temptation bundling’: the idea of tying together two activities — one you should do but may avoid; and one you love to do but isn’t necessarily productive.”
For example, if there is a particularly engrossing audiobook one wants to listen to, allow yourself to do so only while working out. As researcher Katy Milkman put it:
What I realized is that if I only allowed myself to watch my favorite TV shows while exercising at the gym, then I’d stop wasting time at home on useless television, and I’d start craving trips to the gym at the end of a long day because I’d want to find out what happens next in my show. And not only that, I’d actually enjoy my workout and my show more combined. I wouldn’t feel guilty watching TV, and time would fly while I was at the gym. So when I talk about temptation bundling, I mean combining a temptation — something like a TV show, a guilty pleasure, something that will pull you into engaging in a behavior, with something you know you should do but might struggle to do.
* Engage in “temptation avoidance”
This is the flip side of “temptation bundling.” If you know you have a weakness for chocolate chip cookies, then put the package at the very back of the pantry, where you have to exert more effort to get to them.
* Resolve to accomplish a specific input, not a specific output
In other words, don’t pledge to lose 30 pounds at the end of 6 months. Instead, pledge to work out 20 minutes a day 4 times a week. You can’t necessarily control the former. But you can much more easily control the latter.
* Build in small breaks or “cheats” in your resolution
For some people, allowing themselves one day a week when they can an otherwise forbidden dessert can
help them stick to their diet the rest of the time. (For others, this is could be recipe for disaster.)
* Put a mirror in your dining area
Another interesting tip from the Washington Post, “If you want to lose weight, eat that cake in front of a mirror.” Apparently, seeing oneself do something one considers unhealthy can tip the balance away from that activity. Again, this helps make one’s activity more objective to oneself.
Again, not every resolution is worth keeping. But if you’re struggling to keep a good resolution, these tips might help you be part of that 46% who are still going strong after 6 months. Work with your psychology, not against it.
Here’s to a healthier and happier 2016!