Writing for the Harvard Business Review, time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders explains why people should set New Year's resolutions—even if it sometimes "feels like a pointless exercise"—and offers six tips on how to "make your resolutions actually stick."
Why should people even attempt to set resolutions?
According to Saunders, people sometimes feel like setting goals is a relatively futile exercise, especially if "past experience may have told you that it's unlikely you'll stick with doing anything dramatically different than before." And the uncertainty of the pandemic has "only made the practice feel more helpless," she writes. "Why even attempt to set resolutions when [you] have no idea what will transpire in the coming months?"
But according to Saunders, her personal experience as a time management coach has shown her that "even in the midst of uncertainty... you really can move forward on what's important to you" and bolster in turn "your sense of self efficacy."
To help people set—and stick to—their New Year's resolutions, Saunders shares six practical tips:
1. Choose meaningful resolutions
According to Saunders, selecting "resolutions that really matter to you and where you have a strong 'why'" is the most important step in the resolution process. Having a compelling reason can give you the tenacity to stick with your resolutions when you feel tired, unmotivated, and just want to take the easy way out," she writes.
2. Only choose 1 or 2 resolutions
"In general, resolutions are nice-to-have-in-the-short-term items," Saunders writes. "You won't typically experience immediate consequences from not keeping them, but in the long term, your life will be better off for having quit smoking or reducing spending."
However, since there aren't typically immediate negative effects of dropping a resolution, people will likely view these longer-term benefits as "extras"—and since most people "don't have much time or energy for a lot of extras, you'll increase your likelihood of success by picking just one or two resolutions," Saunders writes.
3. Make your resolutions action-based
Saunders highlights the importance of "action-based priorities," which involves translating a conceptual priority, such as a resolution, into a specific action that can be put on a calendar or incorporated into a schedule.
For example, Saunders writes, if someone resolves to get in better shape, he or she could try scheduling a weekly grocery trip to shop for healthy food and block out specific days and times each week for exercise. "Choosing in advance what actions will align with your new year's resolutions and when you will complete them makes it simpler for them to stick," Saunders writes.
4. Facilitate your resolutions
Citing James Clear's Atomic Habits, Saunders endorses making new habits "obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying" so as to "make new habits the path of least resistance."
For instance, when it comes to New Year's resolutions, Saunders suggests "only allowing healthy food to cross the threshold of your home, paying for items in cash, and putting blockers on your phone to make it more difficult—or impossible—to access distracting apps."
"Think through how you can reduce all friction toward what you want to see in your life and increase friction for what choices you want to avoid," Saunders writes.
5. Monitor your progress
According to Saunders, it can be easy to lose track of a goal if "you don't track your progress." As a result, she recommends people regularly write down any actions related to their resolutions, whether that be tracking them in a planner, incorporating them in a schedule, or sharing a document with an accountability partner.
"This written accountability keeps me much more focused and consistent than I would be if I was just trying to hold everything in my head," Saunders writes.
6. Find a good support system
Noting that it's "easy for enthusiasm to wane" over time, Saunders recommends recruiting "a friend, a colleague, a boss, a coach, a mentor, or anyone else who will consistently check in on you and give you the right kind of feedback: celebrating your commitment to the actions aligned with your resolutions."
"There is always hope for positive change," Saunders concludes. "This year you can seize the opportunity to repeatedly do the actions that help you become the person who you want to be—regardless of what is going on in the world around you," Saunders writes. (Saunders, Harvard Business Review, 12/22)