Don't lose your resolutions: The science behind creating goals that stick

By Laura McKenzie, MHK

Counselling, Laura McKenzie

Well you’ve probably seen them all by now; “10 tips for sticking to your resolution this year“, “How to make SMART resolutions”, “How-to guide: Resolution Keeping”, and the list goes on.

It’s the same thing every year; people make promises to themselves and others about habits they’d like to change and things they’d like to start or stop doing, typically in an effort to evolve in to a more ideal version of themselves. And there’s never any shortage of blogs filled with the “dos and don’ts” of resolution-making. In an effort to avoid redundancy and help you sift through this wealth of information, I’ve opted to highlight what I feel is the most critical part of resolutions, as well as provide some of my personal insights on the topic.

Why is it that people feel the need to wait until the new year to resolve to do something?

You’ll learn quickly while reading this that I’m not a big fan of “New Years Resolutions” in general, I do however recognize and encourage the idea of goal setting in its many other forms. My issue with new years resolutions is not the “goal” part of it, but rather the do-or-die pressure we tend to put on ourselves. There is a tendency to regard the start of a new year as some grand opportunity to wash away the past and start from scratch; “new year, new me!”. That’s not to say that it isn’t, but why is it that we glamourize an event that, realistically, involves little more than purchasing a new calendar (assuming you still use a physical calendar)?  (I know, I’m sounding awfully negative, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this)

We put all kinds of pressure on ourselves to change X, Y, or Z beginning January 1st, and while this can be motivating in the short term, it doesn’t exactly foster commitment. Those other blogs aren’t wrong; the struggle with commitment is real, and it occurs because we often fail to plan our route to our goal. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”, as they say. What do I mean by creating a “plan”? I’m glad you asked.

I like to compare goal-setting to using a GPS; you input your final destination, and it gives you step by step directions to get you there. If you input your final destination and it just kept repeating the destination, you'd probably launch it out the window. We need the steps; they tell us where we're at and keep us on the right route. Plan the steps to your goal, give yourself landmarks. Losing 30lbs this year sounds pretty daunting, but if you break it down, its only 2.5lbs per month, or 0.6lbs per week; that sounds a lot more doable. How much exercise would you need to do each week to do that? When can you fit some physical activity into your schedule this week? Plan for the best case scenario, but also plan to hit a few roadblocks along the way. Busy week and no time for physical activity? Wake up a little earlier and go for a walk or run, get up from your desk and walk around for a couple minutes every hour, plan some healthier meals to compensate, or do whatever works for you. 

And don't worry, if you struggle or take a wrong turn, just "recalculate" your plan and you can still get there. We all hit detours and have to take the backroads from time to time, but with a little perseverance and focus, we can still arrive at our destination. 

All I’m saying is: why not resolve to do/change something every day? Or every week? Or even every month? It’s really a matter of perspective. Break down your resolution into smaller pieces. You have a goal? Great! What can you do TODAY that will bring you closer to achieving it? Docide; decide to do something, and do it (Orlick, 2008). Making the decision is easy, it’s action that’s the tough part. Make that your goal for the day and take it one day at a time.

 There is no time like the present. And if you’re struggling with your resolution, not to worry, tomorrow is a new day. A whole new opportunity for change. No need to wait another 365 days. Go out there and docide how you want to live your life.