‘Tis the season for excessive eating, monumental amounts of stress, spending too much money, and of course formulating grandiose plans to do away with all those vices next year.
It’s time once again for the New Year’s resolution.
The concept of making New Year’s resolutions is archaic. Babylonians vowed to their gods that they would repay their borrowed debts in the coming year. The month of January is named after Janus, the Roman god who the Romans made resolutions to at the beginning of each year. What’s baffling, albeit a bit embarrassing, is the fact that after all of these years of resolution making we have yet to master the art of keeping them.
The practice of goal setting is invigorating and somewhat comforting, but how do we close the gap between setting intentions and bringing them to fruition?
A study by the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that while 45 percent of Americans make resolutions, only eight percent are on track with their goals six months later. That leaves 37 percent of us well-intentioned goal setters right back in the same tight fitted pants and disorganized offices as before.
The question presents itself, are we really so bad at following through with commitment? Or are we just following the wrong formula for success?
Ph.D. Tasha Eurich with the Huffington Post suggests that one of our biggest obstacles when accomplishing goals is a theory called Delusional Development. Delusional Development is the idea that something will come to be simply because you want it to. The problem in this thinking pattern is that there are no concrete steps to follow; you’re flying blind.
“The more we research the more we find that our brain is set up to follow it’s pleasure pathways, and success triggers pleasure. But the way we set goals without a plan for success sabotages the way our brain seeks accomplishment. If you fail enough times your brain stops thinking it has the power to succeed,” said Marci Williams, life coach, fitness instructor and ardent advocate of health.
The answer to successful resolutions may lie in working with our biology instead of against it. This means being mindful of not just which goals to set but how to set them.
“If you’re not a morning person, don’t decide that 2015 is the year you’re going to get up at 5 a.m. to workout; you won’t do it! The goals you set need to be conducive to your natural likes and dislikes. If you like being outside set goals that allow you to involve being outside, if you like cooking set goals that involve improving the health value of your food preparation,” said Williams.
While the vast majority of resolutions revolve around healthier diets and leaner waistlines the same goal-setting strategies can be applied to any objectives. Students often base at least a percentage of their New Year’s resolutions on their desire to improve their academic performance. Research shows that organization and incentive is key when setting goals. This means a step-by-step plan of how you will accomplish your goal needs to be in place. A system to track the process is monumentally important, a documented record of progress is the only way to be able to tell when it’s time to hop back on the wagon or even reward yourself.
A study by the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston found that offering a financial award doubled the rate smokers were able to quit compared to smokers who were offered no incentive. While you may not be willing or able to reward yourself financially for your accomplishments, small incentives can be helpful when trying to keep on track.
“It is important to find ways to reward yourself, as long as you don’t fall into the reward trap,” said Williams. It may be beneficial to your fitness goals to have a cupcake at the end of the week; however, consuming a dozen cupcakes is sure to wreck havoc on both your weight-loss and your pride. Thus some trepidation is required when employing the reward system.
“Accountability is huge when your trying to keep your goals, and social media is a great platform for that,” said Williams. For that special breed of resolution-keeping zealot, posting your New Year’s resolution, along with each failure and victory along the way, may just be the ticket to success. As social beings the fear of failing our peers may far outweigh the fear of failing ourselves secretly. What does this equate to? Added stress, social pressure, and ultimately an effective form of motivation as well as the possibility of a swift kick to the ego.
“Keep it fun, make sure it’s gratifying, and make yourself accountable to someone besides yourself,” said Williams of her top three tips to keep in mind when creating and embarking on new goals.
While the science of accomplishing goals may still be evolving, one thing is clear; careful planning and realistic resolutions are the foundation for a successful 2015.