This content was originally posted on the US News & World Report’s blog.
Here’s my advice for 2016: Stop making the same resolution every year and expecting to get a different result.
If “willpower, dieting and workouts” has been your mantra year after year – and year after year you lose the will, tire of restricted diets or stop going to the gym – I have some good news: It’s not your fault. We’ve learned to make resolutions, and change our behavior more generally, in a system that sets most people up to fail. But if you want to take a cue from people who’ve mastered the art, this year can be different. Here’s what they do differently:
- They choose the right ‘whys.’
“Whys” are the reasons for making those resolutions in the first place. They are the foundation of the entire behavior change process and have a domino effect. Surprisingly, the most popular “whys” for going on a diet or starting an exercise program – “to lose weight” and “to improve my health” – are the wrong ones for many people because they lead to low-quality, unstable motivation.
Motivation is our fuel for doing anything, and the quality of our motivation affects whether our resolutions stick or fade away. Research shows that our primary reason for initiating a change determines whether we experience high- or low-quality motivation. Outside pressure, or the belief that we “should” do something, leads to low-quality motivation. Doing should-based behaviors doesn’t only fuel resentment, but it also depletes us when we do them. Talk about a lose-lose situation!
But people who stick to their resolutions dump the should-based “whys.” Instead, they resolve to change their behavior because they truly want to improve areas of their daily life in concrete ways that energize them – not deplete them.
- They give themselves permission.
Many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of putting their own self-care needs at the top of the priority list, feeling that their work and family needs should always come first. But, if we don’t feel comfortable giving ourselves permission to prioritize our own self-care – say, by sleeping more, eating better and exercising regularly – it’s unlikely that our resolutions will feel compelling enough to stick with once the post-holiday grind kicks in mid-February.
For over 20 years, I’ve been helping clients become more comfortable prioritizing their own self-care and sense of well-being. I’ve found it’s truly the most challenging part of sticking with resolutions. Luckily, when we resolve to adopt a new behavior out of a desire to feel better and fuel meaningful areas of our lives, it’s no longer a chore, but a gift we are giving ourselves – and everyone else too. Research also shows that making a behavior change out of this mindset is among the best ways to create stable and lasting motivation.
- They develop strategies to sustain their resolutions.
Motivation and permission are the drivers of sticky resolutions, but we also need smart strategies in place to help us successfully navigate the inevitable obstacles that threaten our good intentions. We make sure to plan for likely challenges related to getting our kids to school and making work deadlines, so why don’t we also appreciate that our resolutions and weekly self-care plans need the same strategic attention?
People who stick with their resolutions use easy strategies like “if-then” planning that keep them on track. By simply previewing likely obstacles to their plans and ways to get around them, they know ahead of time which choice to make when those obstacles arise. Research shows this type of strategizing drastically increases people’s long-term success.
If you want to learn how likely your 2016 New Year’s resolutions are to stick, take my free “No Sweat” resolutions quiz. You’ll get a personal assessment in three key areas that drive sticky resolutions – and discover what you can do differently to make them more likely to last in 2016.