It’s that time of year—the realities of everyday life, routines, and responsibilities are back in full swing after the relaxation of the holiday season and optimism of New Year’s Day. Whether you’re a part of the nearly 30% of Americans who set specific resolutions this year, or are still defining what type of changes you’d like to make in 2022, now may be the time to rethink your resolutions, get real about what works, and implement strategies for success. Read on for our top tips for sticking to your goals and getting back on track (even when motivation is lacking).
1. Ditch Your Resolution
It's easy for an unattainable new year’s resolution to quickly result in burnout and disappointment. After all, research has showed that only around 19% of resolutions are maintained through the year. The solution? Choose simple, personal goals that can be broken down into attainable action items. Resolutions may not be failing because you lack the willpower, but rather because the goal set was too vague, not personally inspiring, or lacking in clear next steps.
2. Start Small
In our last journal post, we went over the project management tool, SMART, for choosing your next goal: Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-related. Simply put, you should start small, and make a plan. Whether it is an ongoing creative project like learning to cook, or a daily habit like implementing an exercise routine, breaking your goal down into the smallest, actionable item possible will help ensure you stick with it—especially early in the year when you’re just starting out.
Let’s take the goal of learning to cook as an example. Instead of purchasing a week’s worth of groceries and having to commit the time to learning new techniques every day, try committing to making one new recipe per week. After a month you can reflect on your progress (that’s 5 new recipes under your belt!) and increase to two a week—and so on as the months progress. Sometimes all it takes is proving to yourself that you can do it on a smaller scale to inspire confidence moving forward.
3. Identify your Habit Loop
Journalist Charles Duhigg outlines an interesting framework for understanding why habits develop. Whether you’re trying to introduce a new routine in your day-to-day, or kick an unwanted habit, identifying the patterns around a behavior can be key to making a change. According to Duhigg, a habit can be broken down into the following:
- Cue—simply put, the trigger that introduces a behavior. A cue can be anything from a time of day (it is the morning, so I brush my teeth) to a feeling (I am bored, so I scroll through Instagram).
- Routine—here is the habit in question. Identify the specific action you’d like to decrease, add, or change.
- Reward—rewards reinforce the routine. For example, if my habit is brushing my teeth, the reward would be good oral hygiene. If my habit is scrolling through instagram, the reward is a dopamine rush or relief from boredom.
Here’s where we can put the habit loop into practice. Let’s say my goal is to quit checking my email in bed when I wake up. Identifying the cues (my alarm went off and I’m feeling tired) and rewards (I feel more awake) that surround this habit will help me to replace this routine with something else—like doing a word puzzle or listening to a podcast. The same can be said for positive habits. If my goal is to implement a new morning meditation practice, the cue could be that I turned on the coffee maker, and the reward when I’m finished would be a fresh cup of coffee (plus the intrinsic reward of the action itself).
4. Write It Down & Keep It Visible
It’s proven that physically writing things down can aid in memory, organization, and productivity—however, it can also be the first step in making your biggest goals a reality. Try writing down your goal somewhere you’ll see it daily—whether it’s on your calendar, vision board, or even an adhesive note on your desktop.
If you’re a planner person, make your planner system work for you. Whether it is color-coding your schedule, adding a simple yes/no checkbox for whether a habit was completed that day, or utilizing the tasks and priorities sections of our planners for ultra-organized project planning, there are endless tools at your disposal for finding what works for you. Plus, keeping a visual record of daily routines illuminates progress, providing you with the motivation to keep going.
5. Understand Your Motivation
There is nothing quite like a fresh start—the clean slate of a new year makes our biggest dreams and goals seem possible and within reach. That is why it is so important to consider the roadblocks that might stand in our way, and prepare for future days when we may not feel as bright-eyed and optimistic. The key here is to have empathy for yourself when things don’t go quite as planned, and shift your goals and tasks accordingly. Aim for consistency over perfection, and try to get back on track as quickly as you can when life gets busy.
Struggling with motivation? Especially with new skills and mentally or physically taxing tasks, feelings of positivity and motivation won’t always be there for you to rely on. Try taking a cue from Stanford University research scientist BJ Fogg, who argues we should take advantage of what he calls “motivation waves” to set ourselves up for success in the moments that we feel most inspired to act. For example, if my goal is to become a better writer, I might sign up for a local writing workshop in the moment when I feel most ready and inspired to make a change.
We hope these simple suggestions can help you stick to your goals through the highs and lows of the year to come. Stay tuned for more techniques, tips, and musings on productivity and organization here on the Noteworthy Journal.