Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It.
Most of us do it. At the end of every year, we sit down and evaluate our choices for the past one year, identify our mistakes and our flaws, and plan on how we are going to do better in the coming year.
We draw up New Year’s resolutions that we feel passionate about and that we are quite sure we are going to commit to and achieve.
We are convinced that we are going to be different versions of ourselves in the coming year.
That we will work out more, quit eating junk food, learn a new skill, become more assertive at work, learn a new language, spend more time with the family, quit an addiction, you name it. Below are some of the common categories for New Year’s resolutions.
At the beginning of the year, each one of us is committed to our goals for the year, but did you realize that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve them? Surprising, right?
Research done by Strava, a social network for athletes, shows that most people quit on their New Year’s resolutions around January 12, which makes this date the unofficial “Quitter’s Day.”
Yet there is the 8% who persevere throughout the year and confidently place a check mark against all their goals at the end of the year.
How do they do it? What is their superpower? Is it something we can learn?
In today’s article, we are going to take a look at how you can achieve your New Year’s resolutions and become part of this exceptional 8% of the population.
Let’s dive in!
PICK ONE GOAL
Enthusiasm is wonderful, but too much of it can actually be detrimental. If you are like most people, here’s what happens as the year comes to a close.
You are so enthused about the coming New Year, so filled with hope and optimism that you feel that you can achieve anything you set out to do.
In a burst of inspiration, you sit down and draw up a list of things you are going to change in your life over the next one year.
You decide that you are going to start going to the gym, learn how to code, save for a trip to Morocco, reduce your social media usage, quit smoking, and a bunch of other goals. At this point, you are so pumped and feel like nothing can stop you.
A few weeks later, however, it hits you that you have dropped all of your resolutions. You feel drained. You feel that changing your life takes too much effort, and you eventually tell yourself that New Year’s resolutions are impossible to achieve, at least to the normal, everyday person.
People who always attain their New Year’s resolutions must have something you don’t, they must be special.
At the end of the year, you get a burst of motivation and once again set new resolutions, but the cycle repeats itself, every year.
The problem here is not that you are not capable of following through with your resolutions. Instead, the problem is that are pursuing too many goals at the same time.
Imagine if you went to the university and tried to pursue a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, another bachelor’s degree in applied medicine, and another bachelor’s degree in applied physics, all at the same time, while still trying to start a business.
Is that really feasible? Unless you are a genius, you would fail in at least two of the academic disciplines, and your business would probably go bust as well.
This is because you would be spreading yourself thin. You wouldn’t have enough time and dedication to dedicate to each endeavor.
This is the exact same thing that happens when you try to pursue multiple New Year’s resolutions at the same time.
Remember, pursuing a new goal needs lots of determination and lots of effort.
When you pursue multiple goals simultaneously, you are increasing the amount of determination and effort you need to achieve all these goals, which makes it harder for you to achieve any of them.
This is the same thing that happens in the classic phenomenon known as the Paradox of Choice, which author Barry Schwartz describes so aptly in his book Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.
The point here is that narrowing down your options gives you more control.
Therefore, if you want to have a good shot at achieving your New Year’s resolutions, pick one goal that will have the most impact on your life at this particular point in time, and pursue it relentlessly.
It is easier to succeed when your focus all your energy on one goal than if your attention is divided between multiple goals.
Once you achieve one goal, you can then focus your attention on the next one.
“I want to lose weight.”
“I want to make more money this year.”
“I want to travel more this year.”
The above statements are good examples of the New Year’s resolutions most people come up with at the beginning of each year.
On the surface, these seem like sensible resolutions. Once you take a more detailed look at them, however, you realize that they are useless.
What do they even mean? How much weight do you want to lose? If you lose just one pound, is that satisfactory? How much more money do you want to make? If you add $10 to your annual income, will you have achieved your goal? Where do you want to travel to?
Most of us fail to achieve our goals because we do not define them in concrete terms. Losing weight, making more money, or traveling more are not real goals. They are just aspirations. They don’t inspire action.
If you want to motivate yourself and keep moving toward your goal, you must learn how to be specific.
Express or quantify your goal in words or numbers that are direct, specific, and realistic.
Don’t be vague.
When goals are vague, it becomes easy to give up on them.
When goals are specific, you know exactly what you are quitting on, and that makes quitting more painful.
Knowing what exactly you are going for gives you the motivation to keep going even when things become tough.
For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, that doesn’t give much inspiration.
If your goal is to lose 25 pounds, however, it is much more inspiring, because you can now imagine how your body will look like after losing 25 pounds. It also becomes much easier to keep track of your progress.
After losing 10 pounds, you can pat yourself on the back and keep pushing for the next 10 pounds, and so on.
On the other hand, if your goal was to simply lose weight, you could have easily given up at 5 pounds, because you would still have achieved your ‘goal,’ though you would still have failed because you probably wouldn’t notice any change in your body, which is what you actually wanted.
If you want to achieve your New Year’s resolution, don’t just come up with a vague goal.
Instead, make your goal as specific as possible. Instead of saying you want to make more money, say you want to make an extra $10,000 this year.
Specific goals will keep it you motivated and make it possible for you to track your progress, which is critical in achieving your goals.
Going back to our weight loss analogy, let’s say you haven’t worked out in years.
You don’t eat healthy. Your incredibly busy schedule means that you almost always grab some take out junk food at the neighborhood fast food café because you rarely have time to cook a nice, healthy meal at home.
Come New Year’s, you decide that you are going to lose 50 pounds.
Well, because it is a nice round number that will sound rather impressive when you afterward say to people, “Oh, I lost 50 pounds this year.”
While saying that you lost 50 pounds might sound wonderful, the truth is that this goal might be too unrealistic, given that you have not built the resilience for it.
It will require a lot of changes in your life that you might not be ready for all at once. In essence, you are jumping into the deep end from the get-go.
Of course you might be one of those incredibly self-willed people, or you have a strong motivating factor driving you to attain this goal, in which case it might actually be possible to achieve such a goal.
If you are like most people who struggle with great forces of resistance when trying to accomplish something, however, then it might be wiser to pick a more realistic goal.
Note that I am not saying that you should aim too low.
Far from that.
The goal must be high enough that you will feel wonderful when you attain it, and realistic enough that you feel it is attainable.
The more unattainable your goal feels, the easier it becomes for you to lose motivation.
It is also good to note that setting realistic goals requires self-awareness. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses, since they determine your likelihood of achieving a particular goal within a certain time frame.
CREATE A SYSTEM TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOAL
Another thing that most people outside the exceptional 8% do is that they set goals without thinking about what it will take to achieve the goal.
Going back to our weight loss analogy, people will say that they want to lose weight without taking the time to think about what they will have to do to lose weight.
Will you start going for a jog each morning? Will you start going to the gym? Will you start dieting? What exactly are you going in order to lose weight?
I hate to burst your bubble, but goals without a plan on how to achieve them are not goals. They are just dreams.
Yet this is what most of us do. We are basically dreaming at the beginning of each year because we set goals without creating a plan on how we are going to achieve these goals.
If you want to achieve your goal, think about what you need to do to achieve it.
Take your goal, and reverse-engineer it to come up with the steps you need to take to achieve it.
After figuring out exactly what you are going to do to achieve your goal, turn that into a system or a routine.
If you do something habitually, willpower ceases to be the determining factor on whether you will keep doing it.
Eventually, the habit becomes part of your character, and you start doing the action by default rather than by effort.
DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN
A young comic once had the opportunity to talk to the great Jerry Seinfeld and he asked Seinfeld what advice he had for young comedians.
Seinfeld replied that the only way to be a better comic is to create better jokes, and the only way to create better jokes is to write every day.
Seinfeld then outlined his productivity system. It involves taking a large wall calendar, preferably one that shows the whole year on one page, and putting a huge X with red marker on the calendar every day that you write something.
The more you write on consecutive days, the longer your chain grows. Seinfeld finished with these words of wisdom – “don’t break the chain.”
Having a visual representation of your progress is a powerful motivating factor. Looking at the long, snaking chain of X’s makes you feel good about yourself. It makes you want to stay on track.
You can do the same with your New Year’s resolution. After determining what you need to do on a daily basis in order to achieve your goal, put an X on the calendar for every day you get to do it.
The longer the chain grows, the more motivated you will feel to keep taking action. If you cannot find a calendar, find some other form of visual proof of your progress.
UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF COMPOUND INTEREST
Another thing that separates the 8% of people who achieve their New Year’s resolutions year after year and those who quit on their resolutions within the first few weeks of every year is that the 8% understand the power of compound interest.
They know that small but consistent action can lead to significant results.
At the start of the year, most of us are quite ambitious with our resolutions and goals for the year. We set goals that are meant to challenge us in a big way, and that is totally fine.
However, there is one problem. Big goals are intimidating.
Let’s say, for instance, you decide that you want to save $10,000 by the end of the year. The $10,000 figure by itself might sound a bit intimidating.
However, when you break it down, you will realize that to achieve this goal, you only need to save about $27 each day.
Doesn’t seem so intimidating now, does it?
Similarly, if you wanted to write a 30,000 word book, it might seem like such a big undertaking.
However, if you committed to writing about 1000 words every day (which is being modest), your book would be ready in about a month.
The 8% of people who achieve their resolutions every year understand this concept of compound interest.
They know that small efforts – like running for 15 minutes each day, writing for an hour each day, earning an extra 50 dollars each day, and so on – can add up to significant results at the end of the year.
Therefore, when they set a huge goal for themselves at the beginning of the year, they don’t see the huge goal.
They break it into small actions that they have to perform each day.
This in turn makes it easier for them to follow through with their goals even when their motivation is low.
For instance, if your goal was to lose 25 pounds, sometimes your motivation will wane, and 25 pounds might seem like an unattainable goal.
However, people within the 8% won’t have to convince themselves that losing 25 pounds is attainable.
They only need to convince themselves to go for a 15 minute run. It is easier to convince yourself to go for a 15 minute run that convincing yourself that you it is possible to lose 25 pounds.
They know that the 15 minute runs will eventually lead to the loss of 25 pounds. If you want to become part of the 8%, you should adopt a similar mindset.
UNDERSTAND THAT SETBACKS ARE OKAY, BUT DON’T QUIT
When most people hit a snag, their first instinct is to quit.
They miss the gym one day and suddenly start feeling like a failure, like they will never achieve their goal.
You deviate from your diet one day and suddenly you start feeling like your goal is unachievable, your motivation tanks, and you give up on your goals.
If you want to achieve your goals, you must understand that setbacks are inevitable. You cannot completely avoid them.
Sometimes you will come from a business trip feeling so tired that you just can’t make it to the gym.
You will slip some days and deviate from your diet.
However, such a slip does not mean that it is now impossible to achieve your dreams.
If you didn’t work out today, tomorrow is another day.
Of course, you should be consistent and relentless at pursuing your goal as much as possible, but if you slip now and then, don’t give it too much credence.
Everyone has their off days, even champions.
What differentiates champions from the rest of us is that they don’t allow such setbacks to discourage them. They stay in the game.
Adopt that mentality and you too will be a champion and achieve your New Year’s resolutions.
REMAIN TRUE TO YOURSELF
Try as you might, you cannot completely keep other people from influencing some aspects of your life, especially if you have a strong clique of friends.
Social media has made things even worse. When everyone on social media is posting their New Year’s resolutions, you too can feel compelled to join them and post your own resolutions.
The problem is that your resolutions in this case might not come from a deeply felt desire.
Perhaps the only reason you are even thinking about changing a behavior or picking up a new habit is because resolutions are trendy in January.
Even worse, the goal you picked could be something you picked simply because it’s a trendy resolution, something that will impress others.
Well, here’s the thing. If your resolution does not stem from your own inner desires and intentions, you will probably never achieve it.
When things get tough, there is a high chance that you will give up on this goal because you don’t care much about it.
You are only pursuing it to impress your friends and social media followers. To avoid this, you need to remain true to yourself and only set New Year’s resolutions that are truly important to you.
GET AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER
Having support is important, especially when you are aiming for a goal that is extremely difficult to attain. There will come moments when your motivation and determination will wane.
In such instances, having someone to remind you why you started and to keep pushing you to go after your goal can be the difference between success and failure.
Having an accountability partner increases your chances of achieving your New Year’s resolutions for a number of reasons.
The first one is that they will encourage you to keep going after your goals even when you feel like quitting. The second one is that they are there to keep you accountable.
They will call you out when they see that you are not following up with the daily actions that will help you achieve your goal. The third reason is psychological. People are more afraid of being seen as failures by others than they are of seeing themselves as failures.
When no one knows your goals for the year, it doesn’t matter much, because no one will know that you failed.
However, when someone knows about your goals, you will be compelled to work harder because you don’t want this person to see you as a failure.
Therefore, to increase your chances of achieving your New Year’s resolutions, get an accountability partner. An accountability partner could be a friend or family member who cares about you. It could be a mentor.
It could be someone you hire to keep you on track, such as a life coach. It could be someone working towards their own goal and the two of you keep each other accountable. It could also be a group, either of friends or of likeminded individuals committed to keeping each other accountable.
Truth be told, following through and achieving your New Year’s resolutions is not an easy task. Still, it is possible, as evidenced by the 8% of people who achieve their resolutions every year.
Not only will achieving your New Year’s resolutions improve the quality of your life, it will also encourage you to set and achieve even bigger resolutions.
The best part is that you can also join this exceptional group of those who achieve their New Year’s resolutions by following the tips discussed above.
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