Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions This Year By Shrinking Them
Thinking smaller in 2 key ways can both help you achieve more and get better at making resolutions in the future
For many of us, the first week of the new year holds the promise of being the first week of a new direction, a turning point — the marker of when we began seriously working on our big goals. But 9 out of 10 times, come February or March, what do we have to show for it? Usually, fatigue and disappointment — and not much else.
But don’t fret, it’s not entirely your fault! It’s the fault of that tired old convention of the new year’s resolution.
It’s high time we try something new in its place. It’s time we understand why they so often fail, and a few tweaks we can make that just might save our resolutions this year.
Shrink them. In fact, don’t just shrink the resolution; shrink the year, too. It may mean the difference between achievement and bereavement this year.
Why Resolutions Fail: Regression Toward the Mean
If you’re the type of person who struggles to keep resolutions, it will help to understand a critical factor about the resolutions you usually make. How much of a departure from your normal behavior are these resolutions? Chances are, the further they are from your normal behavior, the more likely it is you haven’t kept them.
To give an example, let’s assume that your resolution is to workout 4 times per week. How many times have you worked out in the past week? Taking a larger sample size, how many times per week have you worked out — on average — over the last 3 months? The further that answer is from 4, the more likely it is you won’t keep that resolution.
Why is this so? It’s a simple statistical principal called regression toward the mean. It describes a phenomenon whereby data may seem to initially be all over the place, but eventually over time, it begins to largely fall within a certain range: the mean (or average).
Put very simply, you can make huge changes in your behavior in the short-term. But in the medium and long terms, your behavior will tend toward its usual patterns. That’s called your baseline.
So, while a big resolution can very often push you to make big changes in January, come February and March, those changes will likely have dwindled — or gone away.
But here’s the thing. Your baseline can move up over time. You just have to do it gradually. And to do that, you need to tweak how you look at new year’s resolutions.
What You Can Do: Shrink It Down
To avoid falling victim to the spectre of regression toward the mean, you need to shrink your resolutions and shrink your year. Make your goal a smaller jump from your baseline (or mean), and make your timeframe smaller. These two work hand in hand, and if you use them, your likelihood of success this year should be much better.
Tweak 1: Make Your Resolutions Smaller Than Normal
As I mentioned above, even those of us who initially make huge jumps of progress in our goals can tend to wander back toward (or below) where we started. And the larger the difference between where you start and what your goal is, the worse it feels when you end up dropping back toward your baseline.
But if you aim for smaller, incremental progress, your chances get better. Shrink your resolutions.
Think of it like climbing a staircase. You can try to move up the staircase by jumping 4 stairs at a time. But if you’re used to climbing only 1 stair at a time, you won’t be able to sustain that for long. You’ll tumble back to where your stared — and be in for some pain and frustration.
But if you aim to climb 2 stairs at a time for a while, your chances of making it are better. You can even throw in a few reversions back to 1 step. You’ll probably climb just as many steps as if you tried to go to 4 steps right away, and you’re much less likely to break your back tumbling down said steps.
Once you’re comfortable climbing 2 steps each time, that becomes your baseline, and you can try 3 for a while.
Tweak 2: Shorten Your Timeline
A year is a long time. And while we can understand intellectually what a year means, we can’t really process that emotionally in our day-to-day existence. We see this play out in two ways when it comes to new year’s resolutions and goals.
On one hand, we believe that a year is such a long time, it’s totally plausible for us to lose 60 lbs., write a book, get a 25% pay increase, find a partner and get engaged, and so on. After all, a year is 52 weeks, 365 days. Why shouldn’t we be able to do those big things — if we’re really serious?
But on the other hand, that same belief that a year is a long time allows us to go more slowly than we probably should. In the moments when we’re “not feeling it,” and we don’t want to work on the big stuff — there’s 40 or so more weeks to pick up the slack! But that 40 weeks gets whittled away fast. And before we know it, it’s August, and you’re on page 20 of that book you’re writing.
If you shorten your timeline, you can leverage a sense of urgency to keep you serious about your goal or resolution. You can also leverage the ability to quickly celebrate to keep you motivated. If you don’t have to wait until December to celebrate having made it, you get to stay excited for more time during the year.
If your resolution is to lose 12 weeks in 3 months, it’s pretty clear that you have to stay on things to meet that goal. But you also get that feeling of satisfaction of having kept your resolution much earlier.
As an added bonus, you get to revise your resolution for the next period of time — depending on how hard or easy it was to keep. The more often you get feedback, the better you’ll get at making resolutions for yourself — and that means you’ll get better at keeping them.
The Takeaway: You Can Alway Do Something
Tweaking the magnitude of your resolution and the time period can help turn daunting resolutions into a reality this year. But the key to making it work will always be embracing two things:
- when it comes to personal growth, something is better than nothing
- you can always do something
You may not be able to write a book this year. That might not be where you’re at right now. But you can write something. Is it 100 pages? 10 pages? Try out 10 pages on a 2 week timeline. When you smash that resolution, ask yourself how easy it was. If it was easy, do 15 over the next 2 weeks. If that was tough. Try 15 again over the next 3 weeks, or go back to 10.
It may take some tinkering to find out what goals are workable for you. But a shorter timeline allows you to experiment without having to waste a full year trying find out how much you can do.
Again, you may not be able to everything you want to this year, but you can do something. Use short timelines and smaller goals to figure out what that something is.