Successful New Year's Resolutions Have This One Thing in Common — Does Yours?

By Brittany Lyte on 22 December 2014 1 comment

About 45% of Americans make New Year's Resolutions, little wishes with wings sent out into the universe on high hopes that they'll come true. Yet only 8% of all resolutions are successful before the year's end, and more than half of them are forfeited within six weeks.

It's a grim forecast, but don't be dissuaded. Research shows that we're more apt to achieve our goals and aspirations if we set out to do so on the first of the year. Chalk it up to the "fresh start effect" — that little boost of willpower our psyche lends us when we attempt something new or difficult on a clean slate. Timing isn't everything, but when it comes to achieving our goals, it's truly half the battle. So just by timing your resolution with the new year you're giving yourself an instant leg-up. (See also: The 4 Most Effective Times for Setting a New Goal)

But how do you ensure that your New Year's Resolution lands among the successful 8%?

Here's the scientifically-backed secret.

The Secret Is Focus

What all successful resolutions have in common is that they are focused, singular goals (not a long laundry list) equipped with a step-by-step plan of execution. (Hope is not a plan, as the saying goes.)

Here's why this formula works.

Most resolutions (eat healthier, exercise more, make better financial decisions, call Mom once a week, etc.) require that a person break one habit and replace it with a healthier or more desirable one. In order to adopt a new habit, it's crucial to have a game plan outlining exactly how this new, desired behavior will be integrated into daily life. And it must include small steps that will eventually lead you to reach your end goal.

So when you sit down to brainstorm your resolution, remember to settle on just one goal, and make is specific. Examples of specific, singular goals include quit smoking (versus adopt a healthier lifestyle), host a monthly family dinner (versus spend more time with family), join and become active in an online dating community (versus fall in love), and build a $5,000 financial safety net (versus spend less, save more).

Next Comes the Plan

Once you've hacked any semblance of vagueness out of your resolution, it's time to map out your plan of attack — complete with benchmarks, timetables, and rewards.

If your resolution is to lose 40 pounds, decide exactly what exercises you'll do, where and when you'll do them, and what behaviors you'll nix in their stead. For example, you might decide that you'll go snowshoeing around the park for 45 minutes three times a week with a podcast in your ears rather than watch your usual morning television news show from the couch. And don't forget to reward yourself with a new purchase or fun weekend outing for each month of 100% success. Even the smallest of rewards goes a long way to motivate a difficult change in behavior.

What are your resolutions this year? How will to stick with them? Please motivate us to complete ours in comments!

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Guest's picture
Tor Refsland

Great post, Britanny.

I like the part where you talk about focus.

I like to use DUMB goals setting (big hairy goals), and then I break the big goals down into smaller goals (SMART goals).

For instance, if my big hairy goal is to lose x amount of pounds within a deadline, then I need to set the right smaller goals.

Starting to exercise, change what I, change when I eat, are all important goals that will bring me closer to my big goal.

However, if my smaller goals were to get more spare time so I could watch more TV, or earn more money so I could buy more stamps for my stamp collection, they wouldn`t benefit my big hairy goal.

Successful people make changes today that will impact their future in the long-term perspective.

Tor Refsland