A lot of people make the same New Year’s resolutions. Not a lot of people know how to keep them.
Business Insider is here to help change that.
We checked out a recent Marist poll on the top resolutions for 2017 and added some others that we’ve heard people talking about; then we found research-backed strategies for sticking to all of them.
So whether your goal is to lose weight, save more money, or learn a new language, we’ve got you covered. Here’s to a year in which we make our dreams reality.
The resolution: Be a better person
The trick: Do the “daily questions” exercise
According to the Marist poll, “being a better person” is the most popular resolution for 2017, claimed by 16% of respondents.
Of course, it’s impossible to define “better person,” and to figure out one strategy for getting there. But the daily questions exercise is simple enough that anyone can use it and tailor it to the specific behaviours they’re trying to change.
The exercise is used by psychologist, executive coach, and author Marshall Goldsmith. Here’s how it works:
- Start with an Excel spreadsheet and write down a series of important questions (Goldsmith has 32) about your experiences with friends, family, and coworkers. Goldsmith’s questions include “Did I do my best to build positive relationships?” and “How many minutes did you walk?”
- Then create seven boxes across, one for every day of the week. Every question is either answered with yes/no or a number. Goldsmith scores himself on a 1-10 scale, comparing yesterday’s effort with previous days.
- At the end of the week, create a report card.
The goal is both to continue making progress on your goals and to realise that there will always be areas where you can improve.
The resolution: Lose weight
The trick: Keep a food diary
The poll found that 10% of people said they wanted to lose weight in 2o17.
Again, there’s no one technique that will work for everyone, and you’ll likely have to use the food diary in conjunction with other strategies.
But one study of overweight and obese women found that those who kept a food diary (in the form of a printed booklet) lost about six pounds more than those who didn’t. All participants were instructed to keep food diaries, but those who kept them consistently were more successful at losing weight.
In other words, the idea that someone is watching what you eat — even if that someone is you — can help.
As Business Insider’s Rafi Letzter has reported, the MyFitnessPal app is a great way to track your food intake because it isn’t based on any particular diet and it allows you (and/or your nutritionist) to set your own targets.
The resolution: Exercise more
The trick: Just do it and trust that you’ll enjoy it
Another 10% of people said they wanted to exercise more this year.
If that’s your goal, too, keep in mind that the hardest part of hitting the gym is actually getting there. That’s probably because you’re anticipating a truly awful, gruelling workout.
But as behavioural economist and Duke University psychologist Dan Ariely previously told Business Insider, exercise is rarely as painful as we imagine it will be. After a few minutes, you might enjoy the sensation of your breath, the music coming through your headphones, and the sound of your feet hitting the ground.
All those reasons why you “should” exercise — like getting stronger and looking better — will fade away.
So put a time for exercise on your calendar and have faith that it will be a positive experience.
The resolution: Save more money
The trick: Think about money as something to invest
Seven per cent of respondents reported that they hoped to spend less and save more money in 2017.
Business Insider rounded up some of the best tricks for doing just that, from people who save over half their income.
One such trick, based on a tip from “Mr. Money Mustache”, is thinking about money as something to invest, and not as something to spend. So for example, if you get a raise or a birthday gift, get into the mindset of investing it immediately instead of blowing it on clothes or a vacation.
The resolution: Learn a new language
The trick: Use spaced repetition
Spaced repetition is a system that makes learning more efficient. In his book “Fluent Forever,” opera singer and polyglot Gabriel Wyner recommends this strategy for learning a foreign language. Here’s how it works, based on an example from the book:
If you can remember that “trabajo” is the Spanish word for work two months after learning it, the spaced-repetition system (SRS) will wait another four to six months before putting it back on your to-do list. But if you’re having trouble remembering that “computadora” means “computer” for more than two weeks, the system will put that word back on your to-list more often until you can finally remember it.
You can either create your own SRS or use one available online.
The resolution: Quit smoking (or any bad habit)
The trick: Be mindful
During a TEDMed Talk, Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist at University of Massachusetts Medical School, proposed that the key to breaking a bad habit is mindfulness — specifically, focusing on how the habit really makes you feel.
His research focused specifically on people trying to quit smoking.
In one such study, instead of forcing the smokers to quit, Brewer and his colleagues gave them complete permission to continue — but the participants were asked to be mindful about how smoking made them feel. They were told to smell the cigarette and think about what it smelled like, then take a drag of the cigarette and notice what it tasted like.
Results showed that mindfulness was twice as effective at helping people quit as a standard training called Freedom From Smoking. That’s likely because mindfulness helps you observe your cravings and your behaviour up close, without getting sucked into them.
The resolution: Meet a romantic partner online
The trick: Include a question in your profile
We’re at the point where saying you met someone online is no longer embarrassing. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Take a tip from Jess Carbino, Tinder’s in-house sociologist, who previously told Business Insider that some people don’t know what to say when they find out they have matched with someone. Make it easier for your matches and include a conversation starter in your bio.
For example, if you mention in your profile that you like to travel, list a few places you’ve been and then ask: “What’s your next destination?”
If you’re an art fan, cite artists whose work you enjoy and then ask: “Who’s your favourite artist?”
The resolution: Find a new job
The trick: Keep a “Good Time Journal”
Before you officially decide to leave your job, you’ll want to take advice from Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, professors at Stanford University’s design program.
Burnett and Evans recommend keeping a “Good Time Journal,” or a catalogue of the tasks you enjoy most and least in your current work.
The first component of the journal is the activity log, where you list your primary activities and how engaged and energised you were while doing them. The second component is reflection, which involves reviewing your activity log and noticing any patterns or surprises.
The authors recommend keeping the journal for three weeks. That way, you can see what type of job to look for going forward or realise that you can keep your current job and talk to your manager about eliminating the parts you hate.
The resolution: Spend more time with family
The trick: Embrace work on weekends
Contrary to popular belief, staring at your laptop on a sunny Saturday afternoon doesn’t necessarily make you a workaholic. But it could make you more productive — and leave you more time to devote to caring for your family.
That’s according to author and time-management expert Laura Vanderkam. As she previously told Business Insider, if you work a couple hours on Saturday mornings and Sunday nights, for example, you might be able to leave the office an hour earlier every weekday. That means you could pick up your kids from school, or prepare dinner, or simply make it to a gym class.
Vanderkam suggests using weekend time to think deeply on tough problems or plan for the week ahead, which can save you time during the week.
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