How to make resolutions you’ll actually achieve

The most important step is to set out specific behaviors, Dudley says. Photo via iStock
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News at Northeastern

At the begin­ning of every year, mil­lions of Amer­i­cans set res­o­lu­tions for the upcoming 365 days. Making those goals stick past the first week of Jan­uary, how­ever, can prove chal­lenging. In fact, Laura Dudley, assis­tant clin­ical pro­fessor and director of the Applied Behavior Analysis pro­gram at North­eastern, says research sug­gests that while roughly half of America sets New Year’s res­o­lu­tions, “only approx­i­mately 8 per­cent of us report that we achieved those goals by the end of the year.”

Maybe you’re usu­ally part of that 8 per­cent. If not, we asked Dudley for some tips to set your­self up for suc­cess in 2017.

The most important step is to set out specific behaviors, Dudley says. Photo via iStock

Frame res­o­lu­tions with spe­cific behaviors

Per­haps the most impor­tant step to take toward achieving a goal is to frame it in terms of the spe­cific behav­iors we’ll engage in, rather than in terms of gen­eral out­comes, Dudley said.

For example, rather than set­ting a goal to lose weight, iden­tify the con­crete behav­iors that might lead to weight loss, such as eating healthy foods or exer­cising a cer­tain number of times per week,” she said.

Like­wise, rather than “resolving to get orga­nized, resolve instead to create a filing system for the papers that have taken over the kitchen table,” she said.

This may involve a bit of research to deter­mine what spe­cific behav­iors will lead to that over­ar­ching goal,” Dudley said. “How­ever, framing res­o­lu­tions in terms of observ­able, mea­sur­able behav­iors rather than out­comes of those behav­iors will likely lead to more success.”

Track your progress

Seeing the progress we’ve made toward our goals is another strategy for staying on track, Dudley said. An example she offered: If your res­o­lu­tion is to save more money, track how much you’re saving each week and con­sider putting it into a graph to see it more visually.

Research sug­gests that simply tracking our own behav­iors may lead to improve­ments such as reduc­tions in elec­tricity use and ces­sa­tion of cig­a­rette smoking,” Dudley said.

And tech­nology can help. “These days there are plenty of apps avail­able that make tracking one’s own behavior as easy as inputting the data into a smart­phone,” she said.

Make it positive

Rather than iden­ti­fying what you won’t do, focus on what you will do.

Con­sider framing res­o­lu­tions in terms of the behav­iors that you will engage in rather than describing the behav­iors you will stop engaging in,” Dudley said.

For example, if your goal is to eat more healthily, you have a better shot at suc­cess if you start each day with a goal of eating healthy foods, rather than if you start each day with a goal of not eating junk food.

Be opti­mistic, yet realistic

Res­o­lu­tions should give you some­thing to strive for, but they shouldn’t be out of reach.

One poten­tial pit­fall to not meeting New Year’s res­o­lu­tions is set­ting goals that are too lofty,” Dudley said. “Set­ting a goal that is unachiev­able will likely lead to a return to past his­to­ries of behavior.”

She added: “Con­sider your base­line or your starting point. Do you want to spend less time on your phone and cur­rently spend approx­i­mately eight hours on your phone per day? You may want to start with a goal of spending five or fewer hours on your phone per day and then shift your cri­teria for achieve­ment as you meet each step toward your goal.”

Say it loud, say it proud

Don’t keep your goals secret, Dudley said. Tell your friends and rel­a­tives about the changes you’d like to make.

This may lead to more account­ability, as friends and rel­a­tives may ask you how your progress is going, praise you when you’re engaging in behav­iors toward your goal, and make com­ments when you’re not,” she said. “Social rein­force­ment can be very pow­erful. You may also find that your friends have sim­ilar res­o­lu­tions, in which case you may work together to meet your common goals.”

A ‘new you’ doesn’t need to start on New Year’s Day

Finally, while the New Year offers a fresh start, remember that Jan. 1 isn’t a magic date when it comes to making changes,” Dudley said. “Set goals when you are ready to take the steps to achieve those goals. That may be Jan. 1, but it may be March 15. Con­sider turning over a new leaf when you have a plan you are com­fort­able following—not when the cal­endar tells you it is time.”



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