5 Ways to Get Your New Year’s Goals Back on Track
If you’ve already called it quits on your New Year’s goals, you’re in good company. 80% of resolutions fail by this time of year.
No shame! Let’s shift that mindset and look at this as an opportunity. Now is the perfect time to check in, see what is and isn’t working, and get those resolutions back on track.
Here are some reasons why you may be losing steam in achieving your goals, and thoughtful strategies to help ramp up your motivation during the post-January slump.
- Scale: Lower the bar, just a little.
We believe in you, we really do! But the first thing people tend to do in the new year is set goals that are impossible to achieve. It makes sense: it’s a new year filled with optimism and excitement, after all. But we tend to set the bar high because of this excitement, instead of creating milestones based on what we can realistically accomplish.
If you find your goals to be too aspirational, no need to start all over again. Your initial goal is probably a good one. You just need to scale it for success. Instead of “I’m going to eliminate all of my debt this year,” try “I’m going to use the snowball method to eliminate my smallest two credit card debt amounts this year.” See, doesn’t that sound better already?
- Specify: See what we did there? In addition to scaling down, we also made that first goal more specific.
Making your goal absolutely clear is key. Resolutions that are too vague are hard to laser focus on because they likely don’t matter that much to you. You need a goal that is tailored to you so that you can own it and feel connected to it. Think of specificity in numbers as well. How can you measure your success? If you hope to read more, a concrete goal like “I would like to read 30 minutes per day, four times a week” makes it easier to track progress.
- Reframe: Sometimes changing your perspective is everything.
Negative to positive: Some of the most popular New Year’s goals are framed negatively. Lose weight. Quit smoking. Spend less. All of these are attempting to move away from an undesirable behavior, but this actually sets you up for failure. Think about it: if you’re attempting to spend less, any little instance you spend more will fuel feelings of shame and self-doubt. How can you reach your goals if you feel like that?
Don’t let your inner critic win. Instead of avoiding a bad habit, spin your goals in a new light. Research shows that you’re more likely to accomplish a goal that is based on positive action.(1) For example, if you want to spend less this year, create a consistent budget and write three personal financial wins down every month. These achievements feel good — and you can cross things off your list, which is always satisfying.
Extrinsic to intrinsic: Many of the goals we see time and again are extrinsic, meaning they revolve around the approval of others and material rewards. Intrinsic goals, by contrast, take care of basic psychological needs like personal growth and a sense of community.
Richard M. Ryan, a professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, has researched these different kinds of goals at length, and has found that intrinsic goals make us happier than extrinsic goals. “The evidence shows that when people reflectively and mindfully get in touch with their values, they drop the stuff like weight loss; they drop the stuff like ‘make more money or more possessions.’”(2) If you want to exercise to impress others, for example, that’s an extrinsic motivation. But if you want to exercise to feel more energized, you’re doing that for you. That’s intrinsic motivation. See if you can reframe any of your goals this way.
- Take small bites: One of the biggest problems in goal setting is that you may not be thinking small enough.
We’re not talking about scaling down the goal itself here. This tip is for properly sized goals that are just too much to mentally tackle in one fell swoop. Breaking your big goal into bite-sized bits might work better.
There’s science behind this! According to a study by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, those who set small actionable tasks tend to achieve 40% more than those who don’t.(3) That’s because to achieve anything in life, we need momentum, and breaking a resolution down into little increments helps us to move towards exciting gains. Plus, this structure of consistently reaching incremental goals helps you gain accountability for yourself and build better habits long term.
- Celebrate you: The most important ingredient in any resolution is Y-O-U.
And, surprisingly, this is an area people sometimes overlook. Give yourself a pat on the back by acknowledging small wins and milestones along the way. Self-celebration is a great way to encourage yourself to keep at it and realize how far you’ve already come.
When you’re not recognizing your achievements, take time to practice some self-affirmation. We know this can be a little cheesy, but there is neuroscience behind it. In a study published by Oxford University Press, participants who took part in affirmations displayed much higher activity in the reward network of the brain.(4) Next time you’re having a hard time with your resolution, telling yourself something as simple as “I have strong goals and the ability to achieve them” might be all you need to get back in the goal-getter mindset.
Get back on track
Sure, the stats show that sticking to your New Year’s goals isn’t easy. But if you’re reading this, you’re already in a good place. You’ve shown that you’re committed to changing the game. So if at first you don’t succeed, scale, specify, reframe, think small, and believe in yourself. Then try, try again!
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Zip’s editorial content is not written by a financial advisor. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.