Contrary to popular belief, the key to a good New Year’s resolution is not tireless devotion. Kudos to those still hitting the gym in March; of the millions of resolutions made every January 1st, over 92 percent fail before February 1st.
To keep a resolution alive past two weeks, specificity is king. The problem with most resolutions is their vagueness. “Get in shape,” or “be a better person” are excellent ideals to strive toward, but lack actionable content.
Authors Chip and Dan Heath dissect how people make lasting changes in their book Switch. According to the data in their book, a good resolution must be three things: it must be simple, it must be concrete, and it must be actionable. For example, the authors would posit “hitting the gym once a week” is a much better resolution than, “work out.” Even better would be to simply choose the stairs over the elevator at work. Going to the gym requires additional input which often foils our best plans. Since we go to work every day, choosing the stairs whenever possible represents a resolution which is more actionable.
Switch also stresses that change is a process of many steps, not one giant leap. Instead of making grandiose resolutions such as cutting out all sugars, it would be wise to start small. Limiting sodas to only one a day therefore makes a much better New Year’s resolution. This is also an actionable resolution, one with a clear directive which is simple to follow, making it more likely to succeed.
New Year’s resolutions can be a good thing. A new calendar year is an excellent time to make changes in our lives. If you want to make those changes permanent, though, it’s best to be specific.