Ever find yourself making resolutions each year to hit the gym, quit smoking, or run a marathon, only to end up in a spiral of disappointment and self-loathing?
Fear not! We’ve put together some tips on the best ways to keep your New Year’s resolutions.
Here’s what you should do:
1. Be realistic
Many people have the problem of making overambitious resolutions that they have no hope of sticking to. Psychologist Peter Herman coined the term “false hope syndrome” for the cycle of setting unrealistic expectations, failing to meet them, and repeatedly trying to change.
In a 2009 study in the journal journal Behaviour Therapy, Herman and his colleagues found that people who were given resolutions to exercise or meditate a set number of hours a week were not likely to succeed as well as they had expected, suggesting the goals were too ambitious.
So rather than trying to lose 50 pounds all at once or quit smoking cold-turkey, it’s probably wiser to set smaller goals you’re more likely to achieve, like losing 5-10 pounds a month or cutting down a few cigarettes each week.
2. Focus on the process, not the outcome
Another problem many of us have is that we tend to set outcome-based resolutions, like deciding to run a marathon or land a top job. But as Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy explained to Tech Insider, if we don’t achieve these outcomes — many of which can be unrealistic — we can feel like a failure.
Cuddy suffered this problem herself, when she once decided to become a marathon runner. Every year, she would run a few miles in January, and then give up, disappointed that she wasn’t suddenly running marathons, she told Tech Insider.
So instead of setting outcome-type goals, Cuddy recommends focusing on the process that leads to that outcome. So if you want to run a marathon, you could resolve to run a little bit each day, and gradually work your way up to longer distances.
3. Set positive goals
Too often, our resolutions can involve changing negative things about ourselves, Cuddy notes, like being overweight or having bad finances. But this only reinforces negative feelings about ourselves.
So you may be better off focusing on positive things you’ll enjoy, like signing up for a sports class or learning how to cook healthy homemade meals, Cuddy suggests.
Finally, it’s important to remember that most of our resolutions involve change, and change is hard.
As clinical psychologist Joseph Luciani notes in US News & World Report, “all change entails emotional friction,” which leaves us feeling stressed. And stress makes us more likely to fail.
So, instead of giving up on our resolutions at the first sign of struggle, cut yourself some slack, but keep at it. You’ll get there eventually.