How to stay on track with New Year’s Resolutions
If there’s anything you can count on when heading to the gym this January, it’s that parking is going to be hard to come by. At the beginning of every New Year, a large portion of the population tries to make good on the resolutions they’ve dreamed up for the new year—and you’re no exception. Racking up more hours at the gym happens to be one of the often-visited goals that crops up on people’s lists. Other familiar themes? Swinging for a pricey vacation to a far-flung corner of the world, saving money, reducing stress and creating a clean and clutter-free home. Which is all good and well, but then, right around February, reality sinks in: It’s hard to be on your best behavior all the time. Ever wondered why you can’t make good habits stick? Well, wonder no more. Dr. Andy Garrett, a Newport-Beach-based psychologist and life coach is on the case by rounding up the nine most common mistakes you might be making and how to fix them.
1 – Your resolution is too vague
Getting whipped into better shape, becoming a better partner to your significant other or saving up money for a trip are all fabulous—and much too common—goals. But in order to conjure up resolutions that work, you’ll have to get down to the nitty-gritty. “I think our mind is kind of like a GPS system,” says Dr. Andy. “If you give it a really big destination, it’s not going to be very effective. The more specific you are in giving it really clear coordinates, it’s really good at figuring out how to get there.” When making plans for a happier and healthier you, Dr. Andy suggests following the tried-and-true SMART acronym guide, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. “I think if you try to include those elements into your goal or resolution, that will certainly help out a lot,” he says.
2 – Your resolution is not exciting or challenging enough
If your resolution sounds like a piece of cake to you—take, for example, throwing $200 a month into your travel fund instead of your usual $180, or working out three days a week rather than two—you’re more likely to lose interest and shrug it off. Instead, opt for an achievement that’s a little more compelling, something that’ll light you up. “Our brains are best when we set what we call our “stretch goal,” says Dr. Andy. “When we stretch ourselves beyond what we’re comfortable with, it lights up the motivation center of the brain, what we call the nucleus accumbens.” But be careful not to tread from your zone of courage into your zone of terror, which, Dr. Andy says, involves a goal that’s exceedingly terrifying and overwhelming to follow through with.
3 – You’re seeking a resolution for extrinsic purposes
Do you want to become a better employee to please your boss? Do you want to sharpen your time-management skills because your significant other has been begging you to change your tardy ways? “If you’re doing it to make someone else happy, the research is pretty clear that you’ll see an initial commitment to change, but it usually kind of drops within a couple of weeks,” says Dr. Andy. Because intrinsic motivation—one that comes from within—is inherently more fulfilling, connecting your resolution to your internal values and priorities might help do the trick. When you tie your goal to a personal purpose or mission, you’ll be more likely to be brought into the types of behaviors it’s going to take to reach that particular goal.
4 – You’re not fully committed
When it comes to resolutions, 100 percent commitment—an all-out, burn-the-boat mentality— is key. “Because with 99 percent commitment, there’s still an element of relying on willpower, and you want, as much as you can, to remove the willpower in reaching your goal,” says Dr. Andy. Willpower certainly comes in handy when warding off pillowy, scrumptious donuts or a pint at an office happy hour, but willpower is a finite resource and therefore, easy to run out of. To overcome that hurdle, Dr. Andy suggests tapping into a different resource by creating an accountability partner. Sharing your progress with your circle of support, a workout coach or a life coach can boost your sense of commitment. “We know that the more you’re committed to something, and the more you have invested in it, the less likely you are to kind of backslide,” he says. “When your brain starts to see yourself as the type of person that follows through, it makes it easier for you to keep committing on new behaviors that are consistent with that mindset.”
5 – Your “why” isn’t strong enough
Maybe you’re motivated by competition (Your neighbor’s been dominating the “prettiest lawn” game for too long, and you’re after the crown this year). Maybe the fear of letting yourself down keeps you driven. Perhaps it’s your internal standards. Whatever it is, there’s a lot that can be said about understanding your motivation and playing to it. This takes a bit of self-awareness, so if you need a little help digging deeper, Dr. Andy suggests giving Author Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies Quiz” a go. He also often encourages his clients to jot down the benefits they’ll gain if they achieve their goals and the things they’ll lose out on if they don’t. “If you write it out, one of those answers is going to be more powerful of feel more enticing than the others,” he says. “Keeping that top of mind, or putting it somewhere you can see it on a regular basis is a powerful thing to do.”
6 – You don’t believe in yourself
“That one is definitely a tough one,” Dr. Andy says. “We tend to have a certain level of tolerance or comfort for happiness, success, love. If we go beyond what we believe we deserve, we sabotage. That way, we stay in that area of expectation or comfort or familiarity.” Taking note of your victories and thumbing through them whenever you’re feeling particularly critical of yourself can really help shift your feelings and your association with your self-identity. Moreover, it’s important to note that behaviors are easier to change than thoughts. “Your thoughts are evolutionary,” he says. “They’re probably not really geared towards happiness. If you find yourself stuck in a negative space, you can change your physiology by getting yourself in a really confident powerful posture, starting to dance or sing or doing something that’s totally incongruent with feeling bad.”
7 – Your environment is not supportive
If you’ve ever had a good streak of clean eating sabotaged in the wee hours of the night by impulse and a bag of chips, you’re not alone. Perhaps that’s because you still keep your cabinets stocked with your favorite peanut butter cookies, and a frozen pizza or two on hand in the freezer. “Again, we’re relying on willpower,” says Dr. Andy. “You want to use willpower strategically. If you’re having to consistently decide whether or not you want to have some of that chocolate or open that bag of potato chips, eventually, it’s probably going to get the best of you. You want to create an environment that is conducive to you reaching your goal.” In other words, it’s time to bid your junk food adieu. But an unsupportive environment could also refer to toxic people—folks who are threatened by the recent changes in your life or family members who undermine your efforts. Read: If there’s ever a good time to cut naysayers loose, it’s now.
8 – You’re too focused on the outcome
It’s often all too easy to be completely absorbed by the prospect of your resolution coming to life, especially if you’re tackling a particularly exciting and audacious stretch goal. In fact, it’s so easy that you might forget the most important part of the process: formulating a clear-cut plan that’ll actually help you get there. Because when it comes down to it, the journey to your end goal is never about taking a single big leap. “Once you set your really clear goal, create a process that you’ll follow every day, so that every day, you’re making progress towards to your goal,” says Dr. Andy, adding that scoring small daily victories works well in helping you inch closer and closer to your ultimate objective. Hoping to run a marathon by the end of the year? Taking your running gear to work, or scouring the area for an on-the-way-home running trail are all examples of baby steps in the right direction. “It’s all about creating a repeatable process and setting up micro goals that you can reach,” says Dr. Andy.
9 – You quit too soon
Let’s say that you quit yoga before you could really nail that Mayurasana. Or that you threw in the towel before you could hone that flowery French pronunciation. Don’t fret. While some New Year’s resolutions seem simple enough at face value, nothing about the process is easy. So heed Dr. Andy’s advice: Just because you goof up once or twice doesn’t mean you should pull the plug. Mustering up the resilience and grit to bounce right back up after being knocked down is key. Resilience, Dr. Andy says, is a skill set you can hone and much of it relates to the questions we ask ourselves. Ask your brain an unkind question—i.e. Why do I always mess up? What’s wrong with me? — and it’ll spit out an equally poor answer. Contrastly, flip the script and pose better questions — take, for example, how do I learn from this? What character strengths can I learn or develop in order to do this task? “I love the idea of building resilience and being open to course-correction,” says Dr. Andy. “Just because you’re not making any progress or moving in the right direction doesn’t mean that you are not going to get there. It might mean that you need to change your strategy or change course.”
Written By Mariam Makatsaria