It’s almost the New Year—the time to reflect on your aspirations and set meaningful goals to improve your health and happiness. Which sounds great, right? But how many of us actually keep our New Year’s resolutions past January?
Not many, according to a study by author and psychologist Richard Wiseman. His research found that 52% of resolution-makers were confident that they’d achieve their goals, yet only 12% succeeded. What was the secret? Those who took meaningful steps to achieve their resolutions—setting step-by-step goals or telling their friends and family, for example—were far more likely to achieve their desires than those who made no specific commitments.
So if you really want to see results this year, it’s critical that you set your goals with sincerity, and set yourself up for success. Read on for six practical tools for making realistic, attainable resolutions—and actually sticking with them.
1. Get Specific
A common mistake people make is setting big, nebulous goals like, “I’ll be healthier.” Instead, make your resolution specific, with a tangible, achievable outcome. Rather than saying, “I want to save money,” determine how much, exactly, you want to save. What are you saving it for, and what will you do once you hit your goal?
Then, visualize what good will come when your goals and desires are met. What does it feel like? What does it look like? It also helps to have something simple, tangible, and positive to repeat to yourself over and over again. “I will be able to run a 5K because I’m healthy and strong,” is not only positive reinforcement, but it’s a quantifiable goal that you can check in on and make your reality.
2. Write it Down
Write down your goals and outline the small, manageable steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve them. If you set a big goal—say, learning a language—without a step-by-step plan, it can be overwhelming and trigger frustration or negative thoughts that get in the way of your success. But by planning and accomplishing one small thing at a time, you’ll stay on track, focused, and positive.
3. Make Time
Be sure to set aside ample time for yourself to achieve your goals. If you really want to write that book chapter, you might set aside three regular four-hour blocks during the week, and plan one day every month to track your progress. If you want to exercise more, plot out time in your weekly schedule for runs and time at the gym.
4. Move Past Doubt
Keep tabs on how often you “unset” your goals with your thoughts. Pay attention to self-sabotaging mind chatter, like: “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do it.” Every thought you have is an intention. It’s normal to feel fear, doubt, or worry—but to make progress, it’s important to move past those negative feelings.
If you find negative thoughts surfacing, don't criticize yourself, but stay in control. If your thoughts don't support you or your goals, let them go—they’re not doing you any good. Replace them with your positive mantra, instead.
5. Get a Partner
Having a group, partner, friend, or professional to encourage you can be a great way to keep you going. Try finding a friend who has a similar resolution, and check in with each other every week to talk about your progress and challenges. Or, ask a family member or significant other to keep you accountable—just make sure they’re supportive and positive.
You can also seek professional help, whether that's a personal trainer to help you meet your fitness goals or a counselor who can help you tackle larger, looming issues such as low self-confidence or a lack of direction. If you are dealing with issues of self-doubt, these can seriously get in the way of you meeting your other goals—so do yourself a favor, and address such issues head on.
6. Be Still
You’re more likely to slip on your goals when you’re stressed or overwhelmed, so spend time every day to getting out of your thoughts and reconnecting with yourself. Try a breathing exercise, meditation, yoga, or just going for a walk. The more practice you have being still and calm, the more present you’ll be for each step of acheving your goals.
Setting and reaching goals isn’t about willpower, it’s about the power of your intention. Once you’ve mastered these few steps, you’ll be well-equipped to follow through on your resolutions—this time, for good.