Sticking to your resolutions


As this is my first post of the new year, I want to wish you a great 2021! Every year, I feel the need to reflect on the year that is coming to an end and to think of goals for the upcoming year. Many of us use the freshness of the new year to set their intentions on something like eating healthier, exercising more often, making time for yourself, reading books, learn something new, being more mindful. Setting these intentions is usually not the hard part, but keeping ourselves to them after a period of time (say 3 months) is usually a bit harder.

I've encountered this phenomenon myself too, but I've also learned that it's possible to increase your chances. Our brains are programmed to do what we are used to, so that requires us to gradually make our desired change a part of us. Without doing so, we rely on our willpower and discipline, which can differ quite a bit depending on our emotional state.

Instead we rather want to make our steps easy and simple, and we can do so by having a system for it. This sounds rather complicated, but it doesn't have to be... The structure outlined in the remainder of this post can be applied to your New Years resolutions but frankly to any kind of goal, whether it's short-term or long-term.

Start by defining your goals

First of all, you should start by defining your goal or goals. Usually, writing down our goals is not the hardest part. More often than not we do find out that our goals are connected with eachother. It is worth writing down the connection between your goals.

Find out what motivates you

In cases when the goal we just defined feels a bit daunting, it is vital to write down why we want to achieve this goal. In the process of achieving our goals, we will most likely have setbacks, and if we didn't write down our reasons to persevere, our brain will go for the easy route, which is to abandon pursuing our goal.

While writing down what motivates you, it could actually be that you realize that your main goal could be refined. Sometimes it helps to revisit your goals a couple of days after you wrote them.

Define your intermediate results

If a goal didn't require you to make any changes, you wouldn't have written it down in the first place. This means you need to spend a good time in thinking how you would make your goal a reality. Depending on the nature of your goal, you might need to repeat the same task or action many times, learn many new things or a combination that requires both. Making your goal smaller is very important to give yourself a better chance of reaching it.

To measure success, it can be helpful to choose your goals so that they are measurable. Even if your goal itself is not measurable, your subgoals might be. At the simplest and smallest level, you could decide to set yourself a goal on how your goal should be part of your day and keep track of whether you can keep that up. In the end, all the small things count up to big achievements.

Make it all work

A couple of things have proven to be very useful when trying to change a habit.

  • Make it a habit to review your progress every week. Try to find out what went well, what didn't go so well but more importantly why. This helps you to refocus for the week that lies ahead of you.
  • It helps to have someone around you to reflect on your goals, but also to help you celebrate your successes, or to navigate tougher times by having a chat. To make it stronger, you could also be this person for your 'accountibility partner', you don't necessarily need to have the same goals.
  • You can write down rewards that you can earn at several milestones along the way. Especially in the beginning of your new habit, when it is not yet ingrained into your system, this can help you get going.
  • Try to make your goals, motivators and intermediate results visible. This will remind you not only of your goal, but also the progress you've made, which helps in making the new habit stick.
  • Bonus tip: We've used mind maps to visualize our goal and progress. We would put the main goal in the center, the reasons/motivators on the left side and intermediate goals on the right side. Obviously, you don't have to stop there, you can break down your intermediate goals into smaller and concrete pieces.
  • Instead of making year goals, it could be helpful to make goals that span 3 months instead. I find it quite hard to foresee longer than 3 months ahead, which makes it harder to predict what kind of progress I will have made by then.
  • It could help to make a contract stating what you will achieve and when and actually putting your signature underneath.
  • If you have no experience in achieving your goal, try to find someone who does! By talking with them, you can learn about their mindset and start applying it yourself.
  • Be nice to yourself... Some days might be easier to achieve your (sub)goals than other days. Use your review moments to decide whether your goals are still fitting for this moment and refine them if necessary (or add new subgoals).
Michel van Tol