It’s that time of year when people make their New Year’s resolutions – indeed, 93% of people set them, according to the American Psychological Association. The most common resolutions are related to losing weight, eating healthier, exercising regularly and saving money.
However, research shows that 45% of people fail to keep their resolutions by February, and only 19% keep them for two years. Lack of willpower or self-control is the top cited reason for not following through.
How can you increase your willpower and fulfill your New Year’s promise to yourself? These seven strategies are based on behavioral science and my clinical work with hundreds of people trying to achieve their long-term goals.
1. Clarify and honor your values
Ask yourself why this goal matters to you. Do you want to lose weight because you value getting in shape to return to a favorite pastime of hiking, or because of societal expectations and pressures? People who are guided by their authentic values are better at achieving their goals. 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.
2. Frame goals and your life in positive terms
Focus on what you want to accomplish, not what you don’t. Instead of planning not to drink alcohol on workdays during the new year, commit to drinking your favorite sparkling water with Sunday to Thursday evening meals. Struggling to suppress thoughts takes a lot of energy, and they have a way of returning to your mind with a vengeance.
It also helps to reflect on the aspects of yourself and your life that you are already happy with. Although you might fear that this will spur complacency and inaction, studies show that gratitude and other positive emotions lead to better self-control in the long run.
3. Change your environment to make it easier