How to keep your New Year's Resolution
Raise your hand if you’re making a New Year’s Resolution.
If you find yourself with your hand raised, you’re not alone – between 40% and 60% of us profess to making New Year’s resolutions. The percentage varies pretty dramatically based on your age (millennials are more likely to make resolutions than the Gen X’ers and Boomers).
Now, raise your hand if you’ve made a New Year’s Resolution before and failed to keep it… yep, welcome to the 80% club.
According to statistics, less than 50% of New Year’s Resolutions make it through February, and 20% (or less depending on which study you look at) actually turn into life changing habits.
So, the question is, why make a resolution at all?
The answer reflects back on you.
Do YOU want to be the same person on December 31, 2020 as you are today on January 1, 2020?
Do YOU want to have the same life then as now?
Do YOU want to have the same job then as now?
Do you want to be the same weight, the same dress size, have the same health concerns, look the same in the mirror, have the same family life, have the same financial concerns, eat the same, feel the same in 12 months as you do now?
If the answer to any (or all) of those questions is “NO”, then we often feel compelled to make New Year’s Resolution (or two or three).
Make a measurable goal AND one you CAN control
We’re all human.
And, personally, I believe the reason we have so much trouble keeping our New Year’s resolution is we’re not making the right resolution.
I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot control my weight. What I can control is whether or not I work out.
I am also not entirely sure that I can control how much I eat. Some days, I’m just insatiably hungry. What I can control are the foods I use to feed that hunger.
Financially speaking, certain expenses are beyond my control, so vowing to “spend less money this year” isn’t something I can control. Life is full of unexpected expenses – an unexpected car repair, a roof leak, an unexpected vet bill, an unexpected medical bill.
What I can control is how I distribute my income today so that I have margin to cover unexpected expenses when they arise.
So, this year, let’s resolve to make better resolutions.
If your typical resolution is lose weight & get fit, consider changing your resolution to “This year, I will exercise more consistently & eat healthier”.
If your typical resolution is spend less money this year, consider changing your resolution to “This year, I will track my income and expenses and consciously change how I spend my money in order to have more financial margin in my life”.
Choose your own path to reach your goal
You are unique. While you share many similarities with your friends, your co-workers, casual acquaintances, and people you’ve never met, nobody else in the world is exactly like you. So, if your path towards achieving your goal doesn’t look the same as someone else’s, that’s okay.
The important thing is to find what works for you. And, sure it might take a few tries initially, but the important thing is to keep going. So, if you don’t like weight lifting, that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t for you, it just means weight lifting isn’t for you right now.
If you are struggling tracking your finances in Excel, that doesn’t mean you can’t track your finances, there are only about a million apps for you to choose from to help you meet your goal.
Positive peer pressure - one of the best tools to reach your goal
It’s been shown time and again that professing a goal to somebody else helps us achieve a goal. While it seems that we don’t have much problem letting ourselves down, we REALLY don’t want to disappoint somebody else or worse look like a flake or look like we aren’t capable of doing what we say.
So, once you make your 2020 resolution, tell somebody, and ask her to follow up with you on this goal at least monthly throughout the year.
Here’s the hard part. If you haven’t been on track during the month, don’t offer excuses for why you’re not on track. Just say, “You know what, I haven’t worked toward that goal very well this month, but I am going to recommit to this goal for next month.”
Even better, ask that confidant if they want to make this particular journey with you. Having a partner who is working towards the same goal helps us stay motivated.
Measuring your progress towards your goal
We’re talking about new habits here. And, it takes a while to make a habit.
So, it’s important to check in throughout the year to see how things are going. How often should you check in with yourself?
Some resolutions require more frequent self-assessments (think eating healthier, which should be a daily decision to opt for healthier options).
Some require less (exercise more and reducing discretionary expenses – weekly assessment initially, then monthly).
And, remember, you are in control here, you can make changes to things that aren’t working for you or make a conscious decision to keep going with something because you think despite the short-term displeasure, you are ultimately working towards a better life for yourself, which leads us to our final tip for maintaining a resolution.
Our emotional brain vs. our rational brain
Our logical minds know that we should choose to eat healthy, exercise, live within our budget, and (for most of us) spend less time working (or less time stressing about work) and more quality time with our families.
The problem is, our emotional mind oftentimes doesn’t understand the value of our resolution. This part of our psyche needs to be reminded WHY we’ve made this goal for ourselves.
Why even mention our emotional mind? Habits are deep seated in the part of our brain (the basal ganglia) that governs memory, emotion, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, decisions are made in the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of our brains.
When we're establishing new behaviors (or trying to kick a bad habit), engaging the emotional brain helps us get the two parts of our brain thinking towards the same goal.
This is why it is so important to remind yourself WHY you’re working towards your goal and affirm that you are capable of achieving your goal.
Here are a couple examples of what that might look like.
If your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more, then there are a number of reasons you might have made this goal:
- To feel better.
- To fit into those jeans you bought.
- To feel better about the reflection you see in the mirror.
- To improve your health – get specific with this one. If you start exercising to reduce your triglyceride level, reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your flexibility, lose weight to help your arthritis, improve your lymph flow, improve your lung capacity, improve your endurance, or whatever the health-related reason, remind yourself of that reason.
If your New Year’s resolution is to track your finances, then remind yourself WHY you made this goal:
- To understand where I spend my money.
- To create more financial margin to deal with the unexpected.
- To save towards a vacation.
- To save towards a wedding.
- To save towards buying a house.
- To stress less about my money.
- To learn how to live on less so I can quit my current job and take the job of my dreams even though it pays less.
It’s equally as important to tell yourself that YOU ARE ABLE TO MEET THIS GOAL. Why will this year be different than all the others? Because you have set yourself up for success.
In the next two blog posts, we’re going to go in depth on two of the most common resolutions:
P.S. Kicking a Bad Habit
If you're trying to kick a bad habit, would you believe that the best time to start may be while you're on vacation?
Yeah, I didn't know either until I was researching for this post, but it turns out, if you're trying to stop smoking, then tackling that while you're on vacation is PERFECT because you aren't in your natural surroundings, so your normal ques aren't there to trigger your emotional brain.