3 Tips for Making Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

Here we are at the beginning of the New Year and the end of an often indulgent, busy holiday season. With every new beginning comes the natural desire (or inescapable pressure) to change; to break bad habits, create positive practices, spark growth and be better. It’s easy to make that list of all the things you want to do; eat better, work out, volunteer more, stop smoking, and start saving money. What’s hard is creating a sustainable plan to put those practices into place. Research from the University of Scranton suggests that only about 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goal and about 29% of us don’t even make it through the first week. Beat the odds this year by following these three tips for creating resolutions you will actually keep:

Set clearly defined, measurable goals:

One year I resolved to “learn to play the fiddle”. A good friend sent me a fiddle for my birthday in early January and I talked a lot about it for the first couple months. That was it. Six months later all I’d done was show off my new fiddle that I couldn’t play. Vague goals lead to failure the majority of the time. Take that vague goal and give it some substance. For example:  Turn “Learn to play the fiddle” into “Sign up for fiddle lessons and practice three hours a week.” Be specific and set a time frame so that you can track your progress. Write your goals down and post it somewhere conspicuous. There is real power in putting pen to paper. According to researchers at Dominican University, we are 42% more likely to achieve our goals just by writing them down.

Utilize temptation bundling:

Imagine this: its right after work and you plan to go work out, but as you sit in traffic on your way home you start thinking about that last episode of Game of Thrones. It was such a cliffhanger! You figure you should probably go home and watch that before you go to the gym. Fast forward three hours and you are hastily preparing a sandwich while the next episode loads and that trip to the gym is rescheduled for tomorrow. Sound familiar? It’s a willpower problem and many of us suffer from it. Katherine Milkman, an assistant professor at the Wharton School and behavioral economics researcher, has developed a simple technique to boost your willpower. Temptation Bundling is described by Milkman as, “combining a temptation — something like a TV show, a guilty pleasure, something that will pull you into engaging in a behavior — with something you know you should do but might struggle to do.” Connecting the “should” activity with something you enjoy will create positive feelings for the “should” activity while also motivating you to engage in that activity. For example, your resolution could be set up as: I will only watch Game of Thrones at the gym. Temptation bundling’s usefulness for those of us to struggle to maintain our workout momentum is obvious but there are plenty of other ways to use it. Here are some other examples from Milkman: “you only let yourself get a pedicure while catching up on overdue e-mails for work. Or what if you only let yourself listen to your favorite CDs while catching up on household chores. Or only let yourself go to your very favorite restaurant whose hamburgers you crave while spending time with a difficult relative who you should see more of.”

Build in accountability:

It’s amazing how powerful peer pressure can be. Just by telling other people about your goal, you create an atmosphere of accountability that pressures you into keeping your commitment. Tell your mama, tell your neighbor, tell that guy you see at the bus stop every morning, post it on Facebook, Snapchat it to all your friends. The more people who know about your goal and check in with you occasionally, the more motivated you will be. You will want to avoid that awkward conversation where you tell them you stopped going to the gym or haven’t been practicing your fiddle and they give you that disappointed look, so you will do it. Another useful commitment device is to invest in your goal. Put aside a reasonable amount of money, say $50. If you achieve your goal, reward yourself with a fancy dinner or new shoes. If not, the money gets donated to a cause you aren’t so keen on. You can get creative. My favorite podcast, Freakonomics, has an episode on this topic which has some great examples.

Now go out there and make (or refine) some resolutions! What will your temptation bundle look like? Do you have any commitment devices that have worked for you? I would love to hear from you!

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