The holiday season is a great time to reflect on personal and business achievements and set goals for the coming year. But a recent University of Scranton study showed while more than 40 percent of Americans admit to making New Year's resolutions, only eight percent of us actually follow through and achieve our goals. Experts say the reason for these failures is that many of us lack the structure to support the behavioural changes our new goals require.
Follow these six tips and make your New Year's resolutions stick:
Limit the number of goals. Social psychologist Chris Berdik, author of "Mind over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations" (2013: Current Trade), says he makes a short list of resolutions every year and claims the reason many of us fail to follow through with our resolutions is that we simply make too many of them. "We only have so much willpower to go around," he explains. Placing too many demands on our willpower causes us to miss targets and throw in the towel prematurely out of frustration. By selecting fewer goals, Berdik says there are fewer opportunities to feel like we're failing and therefore fewer demands placed on our limited supply of willpower.
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Write it out. While writing down goals is a commonly used technique that forces a deeper level of commitment, sports psychologist Michael Gervais recommends going one step further and also writing what might get in the way of you accomplishing those goals. "This is where you begin to identify the thoughts that are causing you to not go for it," he says. If you set a goal to make 20 cold calls a day, but you have a fear of rejection, state those fears then think about how you can change your negative thoughts into positive ones, perhaps by stating before every call "I'm the perfect fit for this client."
Set realistic goals. "The people that set the most effective goals are ones that find the sweet spot between overwhelming and uninteresting," says Gervais. While too small a goal won't create enough charge, a lofty goal can cause us to become overwhelmed. If you do set an ambitious goal, break it into smaller, more realistic chunks with a detailed plan of how to achieve those micro-goals throughout the year.
Find a partner. "When my wife and I have the same kind of goals we stick to those a lot better than if we have individual goals," says Berdik. Sites such as stickK allow you to create goals, invite others to view your progress and set monetary stakes, creating a sense of accountability that can help you stay on track.
Make goals tangible. Rather than stating, "I'm going to eat a healthy diet," Gervais says making a tangible goal such as, "I'm going to eat a vegetable with every meal," provides the brain with a visual target to strive toward. "We create pictures [in our minds] that provide the direction for future behavior," says Gervais.
Decide on a general theme for the year. What is this year going to be about for you? Perhaps 2014 will be the year of balance, or the year of health, or the year of reach. Decide upon a word that will become the theme of what drives you throughout the year and make a mind map drawing, connecting your goals to that general idea. "We want to be able to create a focused energy so that we can use our limited daily resource of energy towards that theme," says Gervais.
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