Have you made a New Year’s resolution? More than 90 percent of people do, many of whom are college students. But when it comes to fulfilling resolutions, the numbers are grim. Only 20 percent of people keep theirs past the second week of February.
If you have a plan, though, following through on a resolution can be a great way to better yourself and alleviate the added stress and anxiety attached to the post-holiday winter months.
So, whether your goal is to boost your grades, save money for tuition, exercise, eat healthier, drink less alcohol or anything else, here are some psychologically proven ways for you to set and keep your New Year’s resolution.
1. Dream big, but start small
To become the best version of yourself, it’s important to dream big. But, the only way to get there is by taking baby steps. Otherwise, you risk becoming overwhelmed and ultimately stopping short of fulfilling your resolution, as so many people do.
For example, if your goal is to eat healthier and take off the “freshman 15” you may have gained in the first semester, substitute your typical cheeseburger for a salad just a few meals a week to start off. From there, you can build up healthy eating habits over time.
“Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on January 1 can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” stated psychologist Lynn Bufka. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”
2. Prove to yourself that your goal matters
To keep your resolution over time, it’s important that you comprehend why the goal you’re trying to achieve is important to you. For example, if your resolution is to complete every homework assignment, is that because you want to keep your scholarship? Is it because you want to make the Honors List and homework grades are the only thing holding you back?
Understanding the root purpose of your resolution is pivotal to fulfilling it.
“People who are guided by their authentic values are better at achieving their goals,” Jelena Kecmanovic, an adjunct professor of psychology at Georgetown University, wrote in an article published by The Conversation. “They also don’t run out of willpower, because they perceive it as a limitless resource. Figure out what makes you tick, and choose goals consistent with those values.”
3. Be patient with yourself
Success seldom occurs without failure. And when forming new habits, there will naturally be setbacks. How you decide to respond to those setbacks, however, will greatly affect the likelihood of you following through on your resolution and accomplishing your ultimate goal.
If your resolution is to get seven hours of sleep each night, for example, but you stay up binging on a new season of your favorite Netflix show one night, don’t let that be the end point. Give yourself a break, but make sure you get seven hours the next night.
“Perfection is unattainable,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA). “Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.”
4. Ask for and accept support from others
You aren’t alone in this world, and you shouldn’t pretend like you are. Some resolutions are more complicated and require more than pure willpower. For example, you can say you’re going to start eating healthier, but unless you know which foods make up a healthy diet, it may not get you very far. Reaching out for advice from a friend who’s a nutrition major or your health-nut mom is worth the potentially uncomfortable conversation.
Additionally, if you have a strong desire to fulfill your resolution but are feeling overwhelmed, it may be worthwhile to seek professional help.
“Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body,” according to the APA. “They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.”
5. Enjoy the process and recognize progress
It’s true, New Year’s resolutions can be daunting and difficult, but they’re meant to make you a happier, more confident person. And as you’re pushing through that last lift at the gym, forcing down a plate of broccoli or staying an extra hour at the library, it’s important to sit back, be proud of what you’re doing and reward yourself for what you’ve already accomplished.
“Don’t wait to call yourself a winner until you’ve pounded through the last mile of your big dream marathon or lost every unwanted ounce,” according to Harvard Health Publishing, a media and publishing division of Harvard Medical School. “Encourage yourself to keep at it by pausing to acknowledge success as you tick off small and big steps en route to a goal.”
6. Switch up your environment
Who and what you’re surrounded by hugely affects your actions. So, if your goal is to drink less alcohol, for example, it’s in your best interest not to spend every night with friends known for partying or opt to eat dinner in a sports bar regularly.
Instead, you can benefit from engaging with those with similar lifestyle goals.
“Supportive friends and family can dramatically increase your chances of achieving your resolutions,” Kecmanovic wrote. “Joining a group whose members practice behaviors you’d like to adopt is another great way to bolster your willpower, because having role models improves self-control.”
7. Focus on one problem at a time
Making a lifestyle change that will last is no simple task. It requires nearly all of your extra energy and drive. So, you can’t realistically expect to solve every problem in your life at once.
“Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time,” according to the APA. “Thus, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Don’t get overwhelmed and think that you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.”
With the New Year comes a tremendous opportunity to improve yourself, whether that’s physically, emotionally or financially. Making a resolution and maintaining it, however, are two dramatically different things. Becoming one of the few to fulfill their resolutions requires desire, determination and, more than anything, a plan.
News & Content Manager
Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.