If watching another ball drop on New Year’s Eve makes you feel ambitious about the year to come - you’re not the only one.
About half of all adults in the U.S. make New Year’s resolutions, but only about 8% of those pie-in-the-sky idealists manage to stick with it all year.
What’s keeping us from living up to our promises? And how are we supposed to shake things up in our lives if resolutions don’t work?
We dug in to find some answers:
Resolutions Mean Diddly-Squat
Okay, so that’s not exactly true.
If you say to yourself, “I want to eat healthier this year!” or “Jeez, I need to lose a little weight,” you’ve at least established a starting point for making a change.
But a starting point does not an effective resolution make.
You’ve identified behavior you want to change, and you’re setting a loose goal - both good things.
But without the specifics - and realistic expectations - your resolution’s going absolutely nowhere.
Part of the reason behind this, says Christine Whelan, a clinical professor in human ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is that it’s really hard for humans to make concrete changes in their lives.
“It's easy to change your attitude but difficult to change your behavior,” Whelan told Health. “If you're committed to it, however, you can make a new habit or behavior permanent.”
But forming a new habit takes time - and a lot of repetition.
“And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.”
So the next time you feel guilty about making a resolution misstep - remember: what you’re trying to do is hard.
Hard, but not impossible.
Want to make a change and actually make it work? Then you’ll need to re-think the terms of your resolution.
“Vague platitudes (“lose some weight”) are less effective than specific directives (“I will set my alarm for noon every weekday for a 30-second stretch of my adductor longus muscles”),” explains Ted Spiker, author of Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success, at Time.
In a nutshell: get really specific and make a plan for achieving your new goal.
If you want to lose weight and pick up running, start off by running a short distance three days a week and build from there. Anything more, and you might get frustrated and quit.
Accountability matters, too, says fitness blogger Brian Kelley. And in the age of social media, you don’t necessarily need an “accountability buddy.”
And if broadcasting your intentions to your buddies on Facebook still isn’t enough to keep you honest, then find ways to outsmart yourself.
Feel yourself flagging on the way home from work? Don’t ditch the workout and sit on the couch - hop right into your workout clothes and head out the door. Chances are, once you start moving, you’ll be into it.
Traveling on a diet? Pack healthy snacks, so you can withstand all the junk food at the airport. (Plus, who wants to spend extra money on airport food?!)
The more you can anticipate your behavior, the easier it will be to keep yourself motivated and moving forward.
Ditch the Guilt
The hardest habit to break?
Feeling bad about missing a day at the gym - or eating a cheeseburger when you know you should have opted for the salad. (Guilty.)
Everyone makes mistakes, says leadership expert Kevin Kruse. What matters is how you bounce back.
That means if you eat way too much at Christmas dinner this year, don’t throw away your diet for the rest of the week.
The faster you get back on track, the easier it will be to stay there. And stay there. And stay there.
This New Year’s Eve, don’t make a resolution. Enjoy your time with friends and family instead of fretting about whether you’re going to live up to the impossible ideal of a “brand new you.”
If you feel reflective and want to make a change, get ready for some hard work in the weeks or months ahead - and use our tips to make a goal worth keeping.