Studies have shown that not very many people keep their New Year’s resolutions.
In 2015, U.S. News reported that two weeks into February, about 80% of those who set resolutions had given up on them already.
Back in 1988, a study was published by John Norcross and Dominic Vangarelli where a group of 200 people were tracked with their New Year’s resolutions for two years.
They found that only 77% were able to last a week and only 19% had success after the 2 years.
Not much has changed in the span of 30 years.
Why is it so hard to make and stick with a New Year’s resolution?
I think a lot of it has to do with how we set out goals. Many of us make our New Year’s resolutions by doing one or more of the following:
- We tend to set goals that fix us and are past-focused
- We randomly pick a goal we think would benefit our life
- The goals we set are very broad and generic
- We set our goals and then either forget or don’t look at them the rest of the year
- We think that there is no point to continuing if we’ve failed
- There is no celebration for reaching any of our goals
I’m still a big fan of setting goals—even long-term goals like one or three years out.
But there has to be a better way to do the New Year’s resolution, right?
The good news is that there is a better way! Below are seven ways that you can make real progress on your goals in 2020 and beyond!
1. Make Quarterly Goals Instead of Yearly Goals
One of the hallmarks of many goal setting systems is to set goals that are achievable. Even the “A” in the SMART goals system stands for achievable.
Why is it such a focus? Simple. Yearly goals are daunting.
We tend to make our goals bigger and bigger the more time we have. That means it’s really easy to look at that long term goal and be overwhelmed.
While yearly (or even more long-term) goals may be necessary in some cases, one of the best things you can do for yourself is set smaller, quarterly goals instead of one big yearly goal.
For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds this year, you can set yourself a goal of losing 5 pounds over the next three months.
Losing 5 pounds is a lot easier to achieve and is very doable.
Smaller goals are a lot easier to track, too.
Take a look at your larger goal for the year and break it down into four equal smaller goals. Then, as you shoot for your smaller goals, you’ll automatically be making progress toward your big goal.
2. Find the “Why” Behind Your Goal
I’ve tried to get in shape for years. It’s not necessarily about body image (a past-focused goal for me), but because I want as much energy as possible to start a business, keep up with my girls, and romance my wife.
For some reason, I never connected the why with wanting to get in shape. It was never a focus for me.
Enter my blood test results from January of 2018. My cholesterol and triglycerides were so high that the doctor wanted to immediately put me on medicine to lower it.
High cholesterol leaves a person at risk of heart disease and stroke among other things. To put it plainly, continuing on the path I was on with little exercise and ineffective dieting would potentially shorten my life by quite a bit.
In other words, I may not be here for my wife and girls.
Talk about a wake-up call.
My “Why” for wanting to get in shape was elevated instantly. And it was future-focused.
I now no longer simply want the energy to keep up but I want to actually stay alive for my wife and girls.
Since then, since finding a deep “why” behind my goal of getting in shape, things have been a lot easier to work on. It’s not perfect by any means, but the “why” forces me to keep going, to keep moving the needle forward with getting in shape.
What is your “why” for wanting to achieve what you want to achieve?
Is it just holiday remorse with overeating or spending too much money? Or is it something that will accelerate you toward your future?
Don’t let the after-effects of the holidays be the driving force behind wanting to achieve something.
Find your deeper “why.”
3. Write Down Your Goal AND the “Why”
Studies continue to show that writing down your goal increases the likelihood of achieving it.
But I want you to take it one step further.
Not only should you write down your goal, write down your “why” as well.
Writing down your goal is an effective reminder of what you want to achieve. But sometimes, when we look at our goals we can get demotivated because it’s also a reminder that we’re not there yet.
Writing down your “why” with your goals counteracts this effect.
Now, every time you see your goal, you’re reminded of what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. If you get discouraged when you look at your goal, you’ll be encouraged when you remind yourself why you want to accomplish it.
It’s an extra step of insurance to help yourself stay motivated.
4. Make it Automatic
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits writes:
“Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.
What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.”
The reason why he believes that your whole life at this point is the sum of your habits is because it’s automatic. Habits are so automatic that you don’t even have to think about it.
Think about the habit of brushing your teeth or peeing in the morning. For most of us, we don’t even have to think about those things to do them. It’s just something we do.
When I was younger, my mom ingrained it in my head that I needed to rinse off my dishes before I left them in the sink after eating. This is something I carry to this day because I don’t even have to think about it.
The power of your habits is incredible and that’s good news!
We can take the automatic nature of habits and apply them to any other goal you are setting in your life.
Are you trying to get out of debt? Automate extra payments so you don’t have to think about it.
Are you trying to save more? Automate extra deposits so you don’t even see the money in your checking account.
Trying to get in shape? Develop the habits necessary—like daily exercise and healthy eating—to make it automatic.
For example, throw away all your unhealthy snacks if you’re trying to eat healthier. Get everything ready for your morning workout the night so it’s really easy to just get up and do it.
The point of making things automatic is to reduce as much as possible the effort it takes to move you toward your goal.
Whatever your goal is, examine what you can do to make it automatic.
5. Don’t Let Failure Hinder You
Repeat these words in your head.
“I am not a failure. I am not a failure.”
How often do you think of yourself as a failure if you don’t meet your goals? How often do you hear yourself say “Man…failed again.” when you don’t attain your goals?
Don’t let failure hinder you or keep you from going!
One of Thomas Edison’s most famous quotes says:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Let me introduce you to another couple of quotes by Edison.
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Don’t give up. Ever.
You can reach your goal. You will reach your goal.
Keep your mindset right and you’ll be able to achieve anything.
Now, what happens if you don’t meet your goal? Simple. Keep going.
At the end of your three-month goal, make the decision to either try it again or if the goal doesn’t make sense for you anymore, try a new goal.
An example of a goal that might not make sense for you anymore is early retirement. You may make the decision to exponentially increase your savings at the beginning of the year to retire really early.
At the end of your three-month period, you may realize that you’d rather push back your retirement a few years and live a little more comfortably now.
You may also realize that at the root is not the want to retire early but rather to find a job that is fulfilling to you so you can work in it longer.
Either way, this is not failure. Keep going!
6. Take on Only One Goal at a Time
Another reason why a lot of New Year’s resolutions aren’t reachable is because we tend to take on more than we can handle.
We get this burst of motivation and internally say, “I’m going to do this, this, this, and this during the new year!” Then, we fizzle out within the first couple of months.
Take on one goal at a time.
It’s a lot easier to attain a goal when you have a singular focus. And you may do so in a lot less time.
Gary Keller, author of The One Thing, wrote a whole book on this topic. In his book, he says:
“Success demands singleness of purpose.
You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.
It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.”
Doing only one thing helps in figuring out how to get passed obstacles keeping you from your goal. By focusing on only one goal at a time, there are no other goals to distract you if you get stuck.
You are forced to think about that one goal more, leading to a greater chance of overcoming hurdles.
Taking on only one goal pairs nicely with quarterly goals as well. Focusing on one goal will allow you to reach your goals faster, freeing you up to take on up to four goals a year.
Again, if you fail at your goal, you’ll be able to decide if it’s still right for you or if it’s time to tackle something else.
Having one goal at a time will keep your focus on that goal and give you a greater chance of reaching it.
7. Set Milestones and Rewards for Each Milestone
One of the biggest things I advocate for goal setting is to break big goals down into smaller chunks. Break down your big goal into smaller tasks needed to reach your goal.
These are called milestones.
Take your quarterly goal and break it down into separate tasks. What do you have to do this month to reach your goal in three months? What do you have to do this week?
Break it down into smaller tasks and it’ll be easier to reach.
I like to think of it as a set of stairs. Stairs usually have landings where they may change direction or allow for rest.
When you reach your milestone, your landing on the stairs to your goal, stop and relax. Take a look around and see if your goal still makes sense.
See if you need to pivot or course correct. Refocus if necessary.
This is a great place to see how far you’ve come as well. You can look back down your personal flight of stairs and celebrate the progress you’ve made toward your goal.
This is where you want to reward yourself. You deserve something for making progress.
My friend took a very difficult engineering test. He spent three months studying for it.
He took little breaks and celebrate during his study time, but we also went out to celebrate after he took the test—before he found out if he had passed or not.
We wanted to celebrate that fact that he had come so far and had taken the test. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t getting his results for a couple of months.
The point is don’t wait until you’ve reached your goal to celebrate. You deserve it before then just for taking this on. It’ll help motivate you as well.
New Year’s resolutions are a mixed bag for a lot of people, but it makes sense as to why.
We spend the holidays overindulging while we spend time with family and then expect ourselves to make a sweeping change right after the new year.
But remember, goals and New Year’s Resolutions shouldn’t be used to fix yourself.
Goals don’t have to be tied to the New Year holiday.
Use these tips to make real change in your life rather than setting for yourself one (or more) big, unrealistic goal to try and hit by the time the year is over.
I know that you can reach your goals—and you will.