If you’re like 45 percent of Americans who usually set a New Year's Resolution, you might have mixed feelings at this time of year: Excitement over the possibility of a fresh start — mixed with frustration over previous resolution flops.
You were motivated, optimistic, and ready to make a change in 2016. What went wrong? The answers are simpler than you’d think. We asked Shawn Daugherty, PsyD, a clinical psychologist from the Medical Center of Aurora in Colorado to share small, science-backed tweaks that can lead to big change this time around.
1. Don’t post your goals on social media.
Wow your followers after you make your vision a reality. According to psychology research, if you post too soon, all the likes and positive feedback can:
- Create a false sense of accomplishment
- Weaken your commitment
In a series of four experiments, people were more likely to achieve deeply held goals if they kept their plans to themselves. Individuals who announced their resolutions were less likely to succeed even if they were highly motivated.
2. Lean on your tribe instead.
Rather than announcing your resolution on the Internet, ask a close group of friends to:
- Hold you accountable
- Plan social activities and practice habits that will help you succeed
“If you’re trying to quit tobacco, but you’re surrounded by people who smoke, it’s going to be difficult,” says Dr. Daugherty. “Find a group that will support you, help you resist cravings, and think positively about the change you’re trying to make.”
Finding “the right tribe” may even lengthen your life, according to longevity research. Residents of Blue Zones, areas with the world’s longest living people, often commit to a close group of friends who encourage each other and share healthy habits.
3. Treat the New Year like an internship.
One study found that it takes roughly 66 days for a new healthy habit to become part of your routine. Treat that time period like an internship or a class: Take notes, do your research, and allow yourself to make honest mistakes.
This mindset can help you stick with your resolution over time. People who break up their resolutions into short-term “learning” goals like, discover a way to make a satisfying salad under 700 calories, are more likely to succeed than those who set “performance” goals like, lose five pounds by the end of the week.
4. Don’t let a setback turn into a downward spiral.
Success doesn’t happen in a straight line, so give yourself time and plenty of room to zig zag. January 1st doesn’t have to be the last day you ever touch sugar or the last time you online shop, but it should be the day that you:
- Commit to your resolution
- Set a small, doable goal — the first step towards achieving your resolution
And just like change is made up of small victories, it also includes minor setbacks. “After a slip up, many people think, ‘this is just like every other time; I knew I couldn’t do this.’ They make it personal, saying, ‘I'm weak; I'm not enough.’ But you need to let yourself make mistakes and still see yourself as being on track,” says Daugherty.
5. Harness the right motivation.
Did you pick your resolution because you’re afraid something bad might happen — like the risk of developing diabetes from being overweight? Or did you choose it with the hope that better times are ahead — like the chance to run on the beach with your kids by summer?
Keeping the good “what if” scenario in mind, instead of the worst-case scenario can help you stick to your goal. Imagine how you’ll reward yourself for each small milestone you reach as well.
But even though you’re focusing on the positive, it pays to plan ahead for any triggers or high-risk situations you may encounter. Going to a family dinner? Practice a script for how you’ll turn down dessert ahead of time.
6. Use the “tiny habits” trick.
“When you commit to a resolution, you need to look at the habits you currently have and determine how you’re going to create new ones. If you commit to losing 50 pounds, but you sit for long periods every day, that habit will persist until you build activity into your routine,” explains Daugherty.
One behavioral change expert from Stanford University recommends shrinking your resolution down to the tiniest habit possible at first. Flossing just one tooth or doing one sit-up on January 1st can actually be a huge victory. The hardest part of change is making it automatic — tiny habits tend to grow pretty quickly once you get them started.
Related: Science-Backed Ways to Live to 100
7. Still haven’t settled on your New Year's Resolution?
Take Sharecare’s RealAge test to learn how your health and lifestyle compare against your biological age. After asking about your sleeping, eating, and exercise habits, the test will provide a personalized plan to help you live the longest, healthiest life possible starting in 2017.