The good news is that people your age are over twice as likely to keep their new year’s resolutions than people your parents’ age. The bad news is that the majority of college students will still fall short. So what makes these resolutions seem so easy on January 1st and so hard on January 2nd?
Here are the five biggest mistakes you can make when setting a resolution:
1. You have a goal but not a plan.
“I want to lose weight.”
This might be the most frequent resolution, and I’m willing to bet it’s the most likely to fail as well. The problem is that losing weight is a great objective, but it’s not very meaningful as a resolution if you’re not focusing on how you can lose weight.
Weight loss isn’t something you do, it’s something that happens because of changes in exercise and diet. Instead of aiming for an ideal weight, set clear-cut objectives about eating and working out. BMI isn’t always the best way to measure health anyway, so it’s better to focus on the factors over which you have direct control.
2. The resolution is too general.
“I want to cut back on drinking.”
That’s great. But what does that mean? No more liquor? No more than two drinks in a night? Giving up alcohol entirely? Having a general idea that you want to avoid something is a good starting point, but it’s not a resolution until you set a tangible objective. It becomes too easy to create exceptions to the rules if the rules aren’t set in stone. Before long, you’ll have given up on the original good idea entirely.
3. You keep the resolution to yourself.
“I don’t want to spend so much time on Twitter.”
If your social media feeds are currently filling up with people loudly declaring their self-improvement plans to the world, don’t think they’re just showing off. (Well, let’s be honest, some of them probably are.) They’re mostly seeking social reinforcement to pull off their attempt.
Sharing resolutions greatly improves their success rate. Letting everyone know your plans adds an extra layer of protection from slacking off, in the form of that nagging voice in the back of your head that doesn’t want you to look bad in front of your friends. Social media sites like Facebook are inherently positive, so you’re bound to get a few encouraging words from friends and family. That can make a big difference in those moments when the couch or that bag of Lay’s look especially enticing.
4. The resolution is set in the future, not the present.
“This year, I’m going to quit smoking.”
The version of ourselves that exists a year from now, a month from now, tomorrow, and five minutes from now is a lot stronger than the version that currently exists. It’s always easy to kick something difficult a little further down the road, as every true procrastinator knows. To be meaningful, resolutions need to be set in the present tense. Again, this is the difference between focusing on the goal and focusing on executing a plan.
5. You don’t set an endpoint.
“From now on, I’m going to go running twice a week.”
While a goal without a plan is a resolution-killer, a plan without a final goal can be just as bad. I had a first-hand experience with this over the past two years.
In 2012, I decided I was going to run a few times every week. I lasted about three months before fizzling out. There were a few obstacles. I got busy with other things. I was sick and missed out on a few runs, grinding my momentum down. It became something that was too difficult to make regular time for. Something that was too easy to find excuses for.
In 2013, about a month after the new year, I signed up for a half marathon. I learned about it right before the registration fee was going to go up, so I sent in my money before I had time to think it over. For the next two months, I mapped up a workout plan and stuck with it, even after a minor injury led to a couple excruciating days shortly before the race.
I took five days off after completing the race, but then I found myself running again. I couldn’t stop. I’d come to rely on the endorphin rush from running a few miles every other day. Now, nine months later, I still feel restless if I go more than a few days without running.
Setting a short-term objective helped me establish a long-term habit. If I’d set out to run as much as I do these days, I’d have never made it.