As the calendar shifts from holiday celebrations in December to New Year’s anticipations in January, many of us make resolutions in hopes of improving our lives. While nearly two-thirds of us make New Year’s resolutions, only roughly one out of four (23 percent) say that those commitments made at the turn of the year result in significant long-term change to their behaviors or attitudes. According to a 2011 study by the Barna Group, 29 percent of American adults reported only minor changes after making New Years’ resolutions while 49 percent reported no change at all.
So, why do so many of us struggle to follow through on our resolutions? Sebastian Bailey, author of Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, says too many of us make resolutions on a whim without properly preparing for the change.
“What typically happens is people rush from a particular way of doing something and say, ‘On the first of January, I’m going to do these things differently,’ but what they haven’t really thought through are what all the consequences of making those decisions are,” says Bailey.
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Follow these three steps to resolution success before the clock strikes midnight:
1. Contemplate the change.
This is the reality-check stage of the resolution process. Before making a resolution, write a pro/con list, detailing the reasons why you want to make the change and what will happen once the change is made.
Once you’ve decided the pros of making the change outweigh the cons, next you need to consider all of the obstacles that will prevent you from making that change. “We often underestimate the things that will get in our way,” says Bailey. Rushing into a change without thinking through its impact and feasibility is one of the top reasons resolutions fail.
2. Prepare for change.
Consider what mechanisms you will put in place to help you achieve your goals. “It’s hard to keep a resolution if everything around you is set up to help you break it,” says Bailey. A smoker, for example, who lights her last cigarette at 11:59 pm on New Year’s Eve and resolves to quit on January 1 will likely not follow through with that resolution if most of her life is organized around smoking - from the breaks she takes during the day to the friends she has who are also smokers.
Consider how your environment will impact your success in following through on your resolution and take steps to prepare for the change. Surround yourself with people who will help you keep the resolution, and possibly, get rid of people who won’t. Sharing your resolution with others who can hold you accountable can also help to prepare for the change.
3. Implement your resolution.
Once you’ve committed to a change and have taken the necessary steps to prepare for it, it’s time to act. Here, Bailey recommends setting what he calls “implementation intentions” – a commitment to doing something in a specific context. For example, your resolution (or goal intention) may be to do more profitable work. An appropriate implementation intention therefore may be: “If I’m with a client and they’re pressuring me to offer a discount on my work, I’m going to say, ‘no.’”
Bailey says setting a broad goal intention (such as doing more profitable work) requires a significant amount of cognitive energy we’re required to consider in every scenario how to react in the moment in order to keep our resolution. Implementation intentions, on the other hand, are specific to a situation and require less brain power to process, making it easier for us to be more successful at keeping our resolutions.
4. Maintain the resolution.
Set up regular checks and balances throughout the year to ensure you’re staying on track and don’t forget to give yourself praise and recognition for succeeding. Setting smaller milestone goals throughout the year and rewarding yourself when you meet those goals is a great way to motivate yourself to stay on track.