New Year, New You: Strategies To Help You Stick To Your Goals This Year
''New year, new me'' is a cliche that often gets thrown around when a New Year ticks over. Once the fireworks disappear and people sober up after New Years Eve celebrations, many wake up January 1st thinking this is their year to make things happen, writing down new years resolutions and setting goals.
Unfortunately, very few new years goals and resolutions eventuate, with most fizzling out in the first few weeks when the novelty wears off. To give a point of reference, data from the popular athlete social networking site Strava, predicts that most people will quit their new year's resolutions in mid-January. It's known as ''quitters day''.
If you are someone that sticks to their new year's resolution every year, then you have a good system, and there is no real reason to change. However, if you are one of those people that sees new year's resolutions fizzle out in January and never eventuate into the new you, you so dreamt of, then it's probably time to change your approach to setting goals.
Below we look at some popular frameworks and tips for goal setting that might help this year's resolutions survive past January, getting crossed off well into the year.
Without a doubt, the most common mistake people make when they set goals is the goals are either too vague, unachievable or a combination of both. SMART is one of the most popular frameworks for goal setting, designed to be a guide to ensure that goals are much more likely to be achieved and not fall victim to many of the common pitfalls.
SMART is an acronym for the following (designed to make you ask the following questions when setting goals):
S - Specific: What exactly are you looking to achieve. Don't be vague. Think: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
M - Measurable: You have to have a way of measuring your goals. How will you know when you've achieved it? What data will you track?
A - Achievable: Is the goal doable? Do you have appropriate resources, time and skills to achieve the goal
R - Relevant: Will achieving the goal align with your broader goals? Will it take you where to cant to go?
T - Timely: When do you want to achieve the goal?
Setting goals with the SMART framework will make them much less likely to fizzle out and fall victim to usual pitfalls of being vague and unachievable.
Implementation intentions are a trick that can be used to help you achieve your goals. They sound so simple that you will probably think ''no way these can work''. But there is a lot of research on their effectiveness with some surprising results. So what are they and how do they work?
As mentioned, one of the biggest pitfalls to goal attainment is not being specific enough. This applies not just to the goal but to the planning of the behaviour itself.
Habits form the backbone of goal attainment. Let's say you have set a goal this year to lose 10kg. To achieve that you will need a plan, which will involve daily habits. Implementation intentions are a tool to assist in this habit formation.
There are a few different ways you can use implementation intentions, generally speaking though, they work by planning exactly when and where you want to perform a particular desired behaviour. Let's say, using the example from before; your goal is to lose weight this year, which involves going to the gym, lifting weights, doing cardio and eating better.
You can use implementation intentions to help you achieve this by making the following specific plans:
''I will work out at 7 am for 1 hour at my gym''.
''I will run for 30 minutes on my treadmill''.
''I will order gym meals at 8 pm Thursday on my computer in the lounge room.''
You get the picture. Essentially it is ''I will (insert behaviour) at (time) in (location)''.
An example of how effective this trick can be for exercising, one study showed that 91% of people who wrote a plan of exactly when and where they wanted to exercise the following week actually followed through.
Psychologically, the simple act of planning exactly where and when you will do a particular activity makes it much more likely to happen. Using implementation intentions can help you form the habits that will ultimately achieve your goals, whatever they may be.
We have covered off the most popular framework for goal setting known as 'SMART'. Another framework that is probably not as well known, but has a lot of research supporting its effectiveness is known as WOOP. Like SMART, WOOP is an acronym fand it stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, and Plan.
WOOP was created by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen and uses a combination of implementation intentions (as discussed above), and a psychological principle known as '' mental contrasting'' which involves comparing the positive aspects of a goal against the negative of the obstacles or hurdles. For some reason, the combination of these two is a potent formula for goal attainment. Here is how you would go about setting a WOOP goal:
Wish - Identity a specific wish. What is something important to you that you want to achieve?
Outcome - Take a moment to think about how you would feel once you achieved this goal. How fulfilled will you feel? What would be the best possible outcome? Take a moment to visualise it.
Obstacles - What is that that will hold you back from achieving this goal? Is it an emotion, a bad habit, a lack of belief? Take a moment to think deeply about what the most significant obstacles are that hold you back from achieving your goal.
Plan - Make a plan to overcome your obstacles.
When it comes to making a plan, you can use implementation intentions in a different way. Above, we discussed them as a tool for helping us form better habits. They can also be used as a tool to steer yourself away from bad habits and obstacles that may get in the way of your goals.
This is achieved by using what are known as ''If.., then'' statements.
If (obstacle), then I will (perform 'x' behaviour). Mostly what you are doing is pre-planning how you will act when you encounter a particular obstacle. For the sake of ease, let's say your goal is to lose weight which involves running every morning. An obstacle might be sleeping in. An implementation to combat this would be something like ''If my alarm goes off, I will immediately put on my runners and go for a run, even if I don't feel like it''.
Again, this might seem like straightforward stuff, but it works. Countless studies have demonstrated how effective this technique can be.
While there is no magic formula that can guarantee success when setting goals, some strategies are much better than others. While the above strategies for achieving your goals might sound simple, it doesn't mean they are not effective. If year after you have found that your ''new year, new me'' mindset fizzles out by mid-January, then it is time to change your approach. Hopefully the above gives you something new to work with.