As we approach the new year, there’s no better time for self-reflection — and to plan for self-betterment. That’s part of the drive that inspires some 40% of Americans to make New Year’s resolutions each December, as reported by the Washington Post.
Unfortunately, people who make New Year’s resolutions fall short more often than not — and quickly. By as early as January 17, most resolution-makers start losing momentum and falling back into old habits, according to USA Today. In the end, some 80% of resolutions fail, leaving people frustrated and disappointed.
If you’re planning on making New Year’s resolutions to help manage your personal and professional goals, you’ll need a plan to help you push through the difficult stretches and avoid the snares that knock so many people off track.
Here are seven tips for increasing your productivity, accomplishing your goals, and preparing yourself for success in the next year and beyond.
Tip 1: Set realistic New Year’s resolutions.
The most important way to ensure that your New Year’s resolution is successful is to make an effort to avoid getting overwhelmed. That starts with setting realistic, attainable goals. When you’re planning what you want to achieve in the next year, you should avoid pushing yourself too far — or setting too many goals that may bog you down.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious, but you should try to focus on one or two attainable outcomes. Be sure to keep in mind all the social, professional, and personal obligations you might have, and set goals that you can reasonably expect yourself to stick with and complete.
It may be too difficult or unwieldy to complete some goals in one calendar year. For example, if you want to build new career skills to earn a better salary, you may pursue further education through an online college degree. Since that’s a multi-year process, set your expectations on researching, enrolling, and getting started — not finishing.
Remember: What’s important is making progress. You can always keep it going with next year’s resolution.
Tip 2: Make sure your New Year’s resolutions are clearly defined.
New Year’s resolutions aren’t very useful if they’re too vague. When you’re making yours, consider what you want to get out of your efforts and what you hope to accomplish. What metric can you use to quantify successful completion of your goal? Try to imagine a tangible, definable result, so you have an ending point in mind — and so you can assess your progress.
Are you hoping to get in shape? Give yourself something to track: number of pounds to lose, number of miles to jog, amount of weight to bench press. Want to earn more money at work? Set a goal like earning a promotion or raise at your next employee evaluation, pursuing relevant education, or attending a certain number of professional development conferences throughout the year. Want to travel more? Come up with a list of just a couple new places to visit, then plan your trips throughout the year.
When you have a clearly defined goal, you’ll be able to track your progress and keep your motivation high. Just remember tip No. 1 and make sure your goal is attainable.
Tip 3: Break it down and plan ahead.
Once you’ve set a realistic goal for your New Year’s resolution and defined the terms of your success, you can set a plan and get to work.
The best way to do this is to break down your overall goal into manageable, trackable chunks. Establish checkpoints for yourself so you can make sure you’re on track throughout the year, and reward yourself for meeting shorter-term goals.
In many cases, it’s wise to start with smaller, more easily achievable checkpoints. Consider training for a marathon. The end goal is to be able to persevere through a 26.2-mile run, but a proper training regimen begins with much shorter one- or two-mile jogs. As you make it past these smaller checkpoints, you’ll gain the stamina and confidence to attempt — and ultimately overcome — larger obstacles.
As mentioned above, some resolutions, like earning a college degree, won’t fit into just one year. It’s especially important to prepare to track your short- and long-term progress for these goals, so you can make sure you stay on target. If you’re thinking about going back to school and don’t know where to start, a simple first step could be to dedicate time to research degrees and program options.
Tip 4: Take notes and track your progress.
Did you know you’re more likely to keep at your goals if you track your progress? It’s true — and the more attentively you do it, the more effective it is. According to an analysis of 138 independent studies compiled by the American Psychological Association, keeping diligent notes and monitoring your progress can help you achieve difficult goals.
Further, the study recommends making sure you track metrics directly and specifically relevant to your goals. For example, if you want to improve your diet, you should take notes on your eating and drinking habits specifically through a food journal. Even if other measurements are relevant (in this case, maybe weight or waist size), they might not be as helpful in terms of keeping you motivated for your specific goal. It’s one more reason why well-defined resolutions are easier to keep.
You can get creative with your tracking methods. Imaginative and artistic tracking systems like bullet journaling, gamification, and visualization can help your progress feel less like a chore and more like a hobby or activity.
If you have a goal of exercising every day, for example, you might consider drawing a green check mark on a calendar for each day you were active, and a big red X for days you skipped. After a string of several consecutive days successfully meeting your goal, you’ll be motivated to keep it up so you don’t break your streak. Or, assign a points value for each exercise session, then a multiplier for consecutive sessions — then try to break your high score.
When you keep track of your progress, you hold yourself accountable — and you can see the results of your efforts in real time.
Tip 5: Don’t let small lapses bring you down.
You’re likely to stumble a bit throughout the year, especially if you’re making sweeping, life-changing goals. That’s OK. Don’t let it crush your motivation, or you may risk your lapses becoming permanent bad habits.
If you miss a day in your exercise regimen, fall behind on your reading goal, or miss your 4.0 GPA for one semester, you can still complete your goal — as long as you don’t let frustration win. Then, when you achieve your goal, you’ll barely remember the small failures you may have encountered along the way.
In some cases, it may even be desirable to let yourself slip every now and then. The classic example? The cheat day or cheat meal — where you give yourself a brief reprieve from a strict diet and treat yourself to whatever foods you want. The idea is that for some people, the psychological effects of giving in to an unhealthy craving may offset or outweigh the temporary impediment to your fitness progress. If you’re craving a burger and fries or a bowl of ice cream, it’s sometimes better to use it as a reward for your progress than to deny yourself.
The most important thing is to make sure your cheat day — or your momentary lapse — doesn’t become the norm.
Tip 6: Slow down.
When we think of New Year’s resolutions, we tend to think of big change. Most of our goals are long-term commitments, and some may involve complete changes of lifestyle.
The point is, you’re not going to accomplish your goals overnight. You might not even start seeing big results for weeks or months — and once you do, you may encounter long stretches where you plateau and your progress stops completely. This is normal.
It’s vital to remember that you don’t need to achieve your ultimate goal right away. Expecting too much too soon is a sure way to lose motivation, so slow down and enjoy the journey. You made a brave decision to better yourself, and that’s worthy of recognition — and celebration.
Tip 7: Get support.
Your New Year’s resolution may be public or personal, but you never have to brave it alone. You can always surround yourself with people or resources to support your efforts and keep you accountable.
If you decide to bring family or friends in on your goals, make sure they’ll be sympathetic and understanding of your goals so they can support you properly. If you know someone who is making a similar New Year’s resolution, consider starting a group to hold each other accountable. Or, if someone you know has achieved the goal that you’re now attempting, ask if they would consider giving you some tips or checking in every now and then.
For many goals, like advancing in your career or earning a college degree, you can take advantage of institutional resources like human resource departments or academic advisors to help support you. Be sure to find out what resources are available to you, and don’t be afraid to use them.
Make brave goals to change your life with Maryville.
Whether you’re hoping to advance in your career, pursue a new line of work, earn more money, or simply learn new skills and continue your love of learning, your online degree could be the key to changing your life.
At Maryville University, we offer a number of degrees across a wide array of subjects, so we can help you make — and accomplish — a New Year’s resolution that suits your needs. We offer high-quality, in-demand online degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate level, as well as post-graduate certificate programs, so there’s something for you — wherever you are in your learning journey. Plus, you can learn more about how we can support your personal and professional goals at our Student Support page.