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It’s Resolution Time Again

With the new year upon us, I can’t help but think about setting some new goals and resolutions. But what comes up immediately on the heels of that thought is cynicism. I think of how busy gyms are in January compared to June. I think of all the times I’ve made a cheesy New Year’s resolution that I didn’t bother to keep.

And yet, every new year I feel swept up again in this excited sense of newness as everyone I know celebrates (or at least acknowledges) a new year. I always seem to feel like reflecting on the last twelve months and thinking intentionally about the year to come. 

One of the things I’ve had to get over in my life is perfectionism. I know it’s unlikely I’ll achieve every goal or follow through on every resolution I make, but that’s no reason not to take the opportunity of making more, again and again, very seriously. 

Because the truth is that when we set goals and declare resolutions, we do make changes. Even if they’re only very small.

how to make resolutions that stick

The power of a fresh start

Katy Milkman, a Wharton professor and researcher, describes the “fresh start effect” acting as a kind of “psychological do-over” in cases like the New Year, the Spring Equinox, or a birthday. Significant days that feel like a new beginning. When this happens, our brains are more pliable and willing to commit to new habits and routines.

But you don’t have to wait for a new year to trigger a “fresh start effect” for yourself. You can decide on a change anytime. It just so happens that, as human beings, we tend to like waiting for dates that feel significant. Why? Well, because of that cynicism I mentioned earlier. 

Milkman and a team of researchers discovered that special new beginnings make us more motivated and more likely to pursue change. And that’s because in these special moments, it’s easier for us to overcome one of the common obstacles to setting and achieving goals in the first place – which is the sense that we’ve failed before and so will probably fail again. 

It’s that damn fear of failure that holds us back in so many ways. The magic we feel around significant dates just helps tamp that fear down, is all.

Knowing that, it feels like permission to set new goals whenever I feel like I need them. And to DEFINITELY lean in and allow myself to get swept up in the collective excitement of setting New Year’s resolutions with everyone else. I mean come on, why waste the momentum?

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Tips for Making Them Stick

And with that in mind, here are 4 basic tips for setting resolutions and goals that last. 

1. Be specific and realistic. Don’t leave your ideas vague and empty – flesh them out! And make them challenging, but achievable.

2. Talk about your goals. This one’s a little dangerous. You want people to help keep you accountable, but you don’t want to soak up the false satisfaction of sharing about a goal so much that it leaves you unmotivated to actually achieve it.

3. Keep going! It’s so easy to call it quits when we fail to stay perfectly consistent. Setbacks and cheat days are part of the package. Accept them, move on, and then carry on. Ditch any perfectionism or all-or-nothing mindsets.

4. Reward yourself when you reach a milestone. Especially in the beginning, because it helps rewire your brain around the new habits you’re trying to establish. Rewards can be big, like a major splurge, or as simple as taking a moment to do a little happy dance and pat yourself on the back.

I hope these tips help as you contemplate any new goals or resolutions, whether they’re coming up for you now or in the middle of July.

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