by Devin Massaro, MA
One of the most cliché holiday experiences is that of making a New Year’s Resolution only to have it fall to the wayside. You might even experience negative judgements like “why can’t I make this change?” in which case the well-intended resolution may actually have a negative impact. Indeed, making changes in life can be very difficult. Here are several strategies to effectively make resolutions in 2022 and beyond.
First, resolutions are a lot like giving people directions. Instead of saying “Just keep going until you reach the destination” it’s more effective to break things down into many sequential steps. Adding landmarks, and estimates of timing, are also crucial. In this way, breaking a large goal into smaller steps is critical. Goals must be specific, and measurable.
Second, the best way to make sure you do not keep a resolution is to take on more than you are capable of! Conversely, effective change only happens when people take on attainable and reasonable goals. As a rule of thumb, cut your goals in (at least) half of what you initially think they should be. For example, if you want to get to the gym six days per week, aim for no more than three days. If you want to lose 20lbs, aim for 10lbs.
Third, try to anchor your goals within a timeframe, by setting dates for interim steps. For example, if you’re aiming to be “more emotionally responsive” with your partner, try to do one romantic thing each week for them.
The above steps can be summarized in an easy-to-remember acronym: SMART.
Specific. Make your goals as specific as possible. How many times will you go to the gym a week? What time? For how long?
Measurable. Define how you will know you have achieved this smaller goal. Saying “I want to feel less depressed” is a lot harder to measure than saying “I want to get out of bed more often than I do now.”
Attainable. Make sure that you can actually accomplish this goal in a short time frame. The idea is to make many small attainable goals like steps when providing directions.
Reasonable. Just like steps in giving directions, goals should be small enough that they are simple to attain.
Time-bound. Set an end date in which you should achieve your smaller goal. This helps to keep you moving towards your larger goal and buffers against procrastination and avoidance.
In addition to these key strategies, there is one more critical point to make. The most important thing to remember when making a change is that just because you fall off the wagon, it does not mean you cannot get back on. Change is a gradual process and progress towards your goal, no matter how small, is still progress. So, if you try and don’t succeed, try and try again!