How to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Work in 2019

Updated from 2018: New Year’s Resolutions fail because they are not goals, they are social conventions. To make a resolution a goal, goal-setting should be guided by theory.

1. Goals must be specific (e.g., lose 5 pounds next month). Open-ended goals (e.g., I want to be a better person) direct insufficient attention toward an identifiable end.

2. Goals must be challenging, yet achievable. Easy goals are not motivating, and goals perceived to be beyond our ability can cause cessation of effort. A challenging, yet achievable, goal should be set at the 90% percentile of difficulty – meaning only 10% succeeded. Clearly some can do it, and surely, it is challenging.

3. Goals must be time-bound accordant with goal difficulty. Insufficient time raises goal difficulty and having too much time is not motivating. Measuring time in smaller units (e.g., days instead of months) makes the goal appear closer, and we feel more connected to it.

4. Goals without goal commitment are wishful thinking. Goals must be important to us for reasons that we can readily identify and that have immediate bearing on our well-being. Having a new year’s resolution to “keep weight in check” because that is generally good is different from being told by a physician that your weight may lead to a stroke. This example illustrates the key, yet often overlooked, component of goal setting – goal commitment.

5. Setting goals is easier than accomplishing them. One needs ability, confidence, and resources to achieve a goal. A goal without ability can set one up to fail, a goal without confidence can lead to mediocre solutions, and a goal without resources will fail by default.

6. A goal is one motivational tool that can help you get where you want to go. But, like daily showering, daily goal monitoring is recommended. Rather than set a goal and hope for the best, have a specific execution plan that contains these components:

a. Set sub-goals that keep you on a progressive course toward the main goal.

b. Make desired reinforcers contingent upon achieving sub-goals.

c. Track progress because without feedback, goals cannot guide course-correction.