Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions: 3 Behavioral Tricks to Make Them Stick

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Sometime between December 26th and December 31st, most people decide to make resolutions for the coming year. While they are often noble in purpose and are aimed at the betterment of the individual making the resolution they are also often doomed for failure. The primary culprits that cause failure are: not turning resolutions into actionable goals, not providing adequate incentive for their completion, and not getting others involved. While this post is targeted at a single person’s resolutions, the steps are easily translated to any person, department or organization’s resolutions as well.

Here are some of the most popular resolutions made in the USA at the end of 2014.

  • Get Fit/Lose Weight/Eat Healthy
  • Quit Smoking
  • Volunteer to Help Others
  • Save Money
  • Get a Better Education/Job
  • Take a Trip

All of these resolutions are great, but they are also likely to fail unless the person who has made them demonstrates both a high amount of orderliness and self-discipline. What is wrong with all of these resolutions? They are little more than dreams at this point and although the 2nd resolution (Quit Smoking) has a final goal implicit in its title, everything else is vague beyond usefulness.

1) Make S.M.A.R.T. Goals from Your Resolutions

Let’s pick the first resolution “Lose Weight” and apply the SMART process to it. This process is about orderliness. If you do not naturally create lists, timelines and action items for your New Years Resolutions, you may want to give this method a try.

  • Is this SPECIFIC? – No, “Lose Weight” is not Specific, losing 2 pounds of fat or 2 pounds of muscle would complete that resolution, but since 99% of people want to lose their fat, we’ll say “lose 30 lbs of fat by Saturday, June 13th for my 10 year college reunion”. I added “of fat” because as you work out, you gain muscle so “losing weight” is not as linear as most people hope.
  • Is this MEASURABLE? Most definitely. I have a Fitbit Aria Scale (sends the data to my computer and phone to track progress), and an OrbiTape to measure my waist, arm, & thigh circumference to measure fat loss when my weight loss plateaus.
  • Is this ATTAINABLE? I have 163 days to burn off the fat, or roughly 0.2 pounds per day. I burned 22 pounds of fat in one month following the Slow Carb Diet from the 4 Hour Body (diet, exercise, supplements & cold showers) so 30 pounds in 5 months should be easy.
  • Is this RELEVANT? I’m planning to attend the 10 year anniversary at my engineering school and want to look like I don’t spend 14 hours a day in front of a computer. It won’t really matter, but it’ll feel great no matter what and it ties into goal 6, “Take a trip to my 10 year college reunion”.
  • Is this TIMELY/TIME-BOUND? Yes, I have a deadline of June 13th, the day before the reunion.

Robert Herjavec from ABC’s Shark Tank gave this great piece of advice about attaining one’s goals and it is as applicable for burning fat or starting a company.

A goal without a timeline is just a dream.

2) Be Accountable to Someone

Being accountable to someone other than yourself increases your demonstration of dutifulness. Although in theory, I will keep my promise to myself to work out so I can make this fat loss goal before my reunion, but telling others of my goal or making a promise to someone else to meet them at the gym will make it even more likely that I will show up and do the work.

Gold’s Gym analyzed four years of membership records and they found that most people who have not fully made going to the gym a habit by February 12th will completely give up by February 18th. I have seven weeks to make this fitness goal stick. In their report they gave 5 tips to make it easier to stick with your fitness goals, 3 of them are some form of accountability showing just how powerful a motivator it is.

Stephen Covey, author of numerous books including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People had this to say about accountability.

Accountability breeds response-ability.

3) Have Rewards/Penalties

This behavioral trick doesn’t tie directly to one trait on the Five Factor Model spectrum of personality, but it does still work very effectively. Sometimes dubbed the carrot and stick method, this ties directly into our evolutionary wiring to seek reward and avoid harm. Whether it is a bet with family and friends, or an online platform like Diet Better, putting your money where mouth is will be an excellent addition to your tool belt for keeping your resolutions in 2015. Diet Better also brings in a lot of social/cooperative elements so willing contestants can help each other achieve their goals and provides greater accountability as well.

The site StickK applies the same economic incentives as Diet Better above, but for any goal process. They don’t have to be personal either, getting a better job, meeting specific deadlines, anything you want to achieve and need some extra help doing it is eligible (within reason and the law of course).

William Penn, English emigrant to pre-USA, Quaker, philosopher and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania shared this wisdom on work and reward.

He that does good for good’s sake seeks neither paradise nor reward, but he is sure of both in the end.

Whether your resolutions for 2015 are personal or professional, give yourself a fighting chance of achieving them by using the techniques outlined above. If you know of others please share them in the comments below as well. If you turn your resolutions into goals, your goals into actions, put your actions onto a timeline, and put aside a reward/punishment for their completion you will surely achieve success.

HAPPY 2015!!!

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