New Year's resolutions often scatter on the winds of change during a typical year, with many of us failing to keep them after just a single week. By planning "bite-sized" but consistent progress toward resolutions, however, psychologists claim we can increase our chances of success.
As many as 45 percent of Americans will make New Year's resolutions for 2012, but less than half will keep them, according to psychologists. To improve your chances of keeping your resolutions, researchers offer some words of advice: Start with a plan, make bite-sized progress and regularly renew your efforts.
The most important element of success in New Year's resolutions is making a plan, according to Wake Forest University professor Emer "E.J." Masicampo. By creating a plan, you commit to accomplishing your goal in a specific manner that can be rehearsed in your head. Studies have shown that rehearsing actions activates the same neural pathways in the brain as actually performing those actions, giving you a head start on creating a new habit.
Besides making a long-term goal easier to accomplish, planning ahead also reduces a kind of fatigue that often motivates people to abandon their resolutions. But by committing to a specific plan, you can stop fixating on the goal and let your mind consider other thoughts, thus eliminating "goal fatigue."
Masicampo lists four essential elements of a successful plan:
1. Specify exactly what you’re going to do (where and when).
2. Make sure the goal is under your control (not dependent on others).
3. Imagine specific opportunities to meet your goal (from your everyday life).
4. Choose a goal you are motivated to accomplish.
Fellow psychologist at Wake Forest, William McCann, adds that people often give up on their New Year's resolutions because they seem overwhelming. But by picking resolutions that are feasible, we can be more assured of accomplishing them.
McCann suggests rephrasing our resolutions to include specific achievable goals, such as eating a little less fried food this year, talking a little less and listening a little more, and smiling a little more this year.
For long-term goals, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Syracuse universities called The Monday Campaign aims to keep the spirit of your New Year's resolutions alive with weekly affirmations that bit-by-bit chip away at resolutions
The Monday Campaign makes use of emails, Twitter, and Facebook to reaffirm resolutions every Monday. And by breaking down long-term goals like "eat healthier" into bite-sized accomplishments, you can bite-by-bite whittle away at long-term goals that seem too overwhelming to accomplish all at once.
The Monday Campaigns sponsored a nationwide survey by FGI Research, which found that long-term resolutions are more likely to be accomplished with small, incremental changes. For instance, if your resolution is to eat healthier, then each Monday you could swap out a healthy alternative, such as having water instead of soft drinks with meals. Then on Week 2 swap out your morning donut for whole-grain toast. And by the end of the year you could have developed 52 healthier eating habits.