Experience in broken promises is nothing new, but this heartbreak of not fulfilling your resolutions seems like an annual affair, doesn’t it? It’s an all-too-familiar routine to draft your plans for change but see it expire by the middle of March.
But don’t let it stop you. We’ve just rounded up the best advice we found from behavioural science academics, psychologically backed studies, and life coaches to help you stretch out that enthusiasm well into the year to put your words into action.
Tip 1: Make small changes
An interview by Frank Swain with Assistant Director of UCL Centre for Behaviour Change Keith O’Brien brings to the fore how big plans often fail without the forethought to make small changes. The importance then lies not in how grand the goal is, but what changes you plan to make to achieve them.
In the same article, studies showed that people who prepare for the worst are more successful in the long run. Which means that they don’t just have goals, they have backup plans. Failure will always be a part of any process of change, and tweaking your mindset into accepting that fact is the hardest but most important step to take.
Tip 2: Form habits instead of goals
James Clear, an author of behavioral psychology and habit formation, believes in making systems instead of goals. Goals are good for “planning progress” whereas systems “[make] progress.” Think of it in relation to the first part of this article. Goals would be big statements like: “being an outstanding employee.” Systems are the carefully studied steps to bring you to those ends like: “spending only the allotted time for lunch to stay on track with the work for the day.”
In creating those systems or habits, it’s best to phrase your plans in a way that targets the 3 R’s of what James Clear calls a Feedback Loop.The three R’s: Reminder, Repetition, and Reward come after setting the system up. Remind yourself the task you need to perform on scheduled days, repeat it for a certain amount of time, and acknowledge the reward you accumulate, no matter how small.
When you stick to systems and see to it that your small routines are achieved, it lessens the stress that unreasonable expectations bring.
Tip 3: It's All You
Jennifer Musselman, a Professor and Change and Growth Strategist, takes you step-by-step into putting your resolutions in action by recognizing the power of your own choice. Sometimes, the greatest hurdle is hearing your own discouraging words or letting your defense mechanisms make the choices. The worse outcome would be to blame others.
Musselman acknowledges that we are not born into “equal opportunity,” but it doesn’t mean we should be complacent and even resentful. She urges that we become the “drivers” and not the “passengers” of our circumstance. We cannot aspire and demand the fulfillment of such aspirations if we cannot take charge and make them happen. Accountability, even in the smallest things, will save you time from sulking and give you the sense of control on the one constant thing you have power over: yourself.
Tip 4: Be kind to yourself
At the end of the day, your goals are meant to uplift you. Yet it seems most of us fall into the habit of stringent criticism when we don’t achieve what we set our mind to do. This puts us in a dissonant state. Dr. Kristin Neff, a world-renowned researcher from University of Texas, in her article for Huffington post wrote that self-compassion is the key to dealing with failure. She says, “I define self-compassion as having three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring, understanding, and supportive toward ourselves when we fail or make mistakes rather than being harshly critical or judgmental.” Common humanity is recognizing your imperfections and having a wider understanding of your own shortcomings. Mindfulness is being aware of the “pain associated with failure in a clear and balanced manner so that we neither ignore nor obsess about our faults.”
Self-compassion is essential in moving forward and moving further. In order to commit to your self-betterment, you have to keep in mind that you’re working with and on your human and flawed self, that all this effort is geared toward your relief and well-being, and that harsh, obsessive criticism is counter-intuitive to your own achievement.
This year, we believe that you need to take it from the experts and shift from making goals to forming habits. Work toward small but tangible actions that accumulate to your intended result, but also keep in mind to be flexible with your approach and work within reality even if you mean to change it. And remember: you’re only human.
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