It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to New Year’s resolutions. About 45% of us set them, but only about 7% of those who set resolutions actually accomplish them.
Goal setting is a strategic executive functioning skill that benefits both youth and adults, so whether you’re a parent looking to help a child improve self-management or an adult wanting this year to be the year the resolutions actually come to fruition, I’ve got ideas for you.
Resolutions are appropriate for children as young as five, although children under twelve should set resolutions for shorter periods of time, not an entire year. Think about it from their perspective: a year in the life of a five-year-old is the equivalent of eight years in the life of a forty-year-old. That’s a long time to maintain momentum and motivation.
If you’ve not had success with New Year’s Resolutions in the past, consider these seven tips:
1. Be Reasonable
One of the biggest dangers with resolutions is that we think we can overhaul every single aspect of our lives in one fell swoop, making drastic changes in multiple areas at once.
Consider addressing one aspect of your life (health, organization, relationships, etc.) and focus only on that area, rather than try to address it all at once.
Casting too wide a net can dilute your efforts and feel overwhelming, especially to children and teens.
Another aspect of being reasonable means setting a limited number of resolutions. No one can truly keep track of fifteen resolutions. Focus your intensity on a handful of resolutions to improve your chance of success.
2. Be Aligned with your Primary Purpose
Most of us have a primary role we see ourselves in at any given time in our lives. That role could be parent, teacher, student, or some other role. Aligning your resolutions with your primary purpose increases the odds that you will be reminded of the goal and that you will have the motivation necessary to follow through.
If you are focused on developing your professional life, but all of your resolutions are focused on fitness, you will feel guilty about the time you spend on either one of those things. You’ll be reading a book on your work, but feel like you should be at the gym. Or you’ll be at the gym and feel like you should be updating your LinkedIn profile.
Choose to target your resolutions to the area that is your primary purpose or focus at this time, knowing that it may change next year.
3. Be Specific
When I was sixteen, I set a New Year’s resolution that said: “Be nice.” Oh, okay, I’ll get right on it.
Resolutions need to be specific. Not “lose weight,” but rather “lose seven pounds” or “lower blood pressure x number of points.”
What I wish I could tell my sixteen-year-old self is to think about what I really think it means to be nice. Does that mean smile more? Be more outgoing? Be less judgmental? Knowing myself, I think it’s probably the last one!
A better resolution would be “Give three compliments each day.”
Be specific about how the resolution is to be accomplished. List the steps or the plan. List the materials you need, if any (like a gym membership or a library card).
4. Be Tiny
BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford, has a website where he promotes the idea of Tiny Habits, the use of baby steps to lead to profound change.
The tiny habit method would be to attach the memory work to the dishes by putting an index card with the verse to be memorized above the sink or listening to a recording of it while scrubbing away.
The idea is powerful (and supported by his robust research) because you’re harnessing the power of the habits you already have. It’s also effective because it encourages small, bite-sized changes, rather than the sweeping, over-reaching changes I advised against in Tip #1.
Watch Dr. Fogg’s TED talk about tiny habits
5. Be Accountable
Without accountability, your resolutions are doomed to failure. Accountability doesn’t have to be tricky or formal, however. This year, my resolutions were written in the January 1st entry for my journal. I kept a bookmark there, and every night I would review them when I wrote in my journal each night (writing in my journal every day was one of my resolutions!).
You may wish to have a friend who is an accountability partner.
You may wish to discuss the resolutions at family councils or family dinner.
You may use check boxes in a planner (this works well for goals like drinking more water.
6. Be reflective
It’s critical to review the goals frequently. You will never be successful if you write them down once and then never look at them again until you write the resolutions for the next year.
Build in specific times for reflection, perhaps the first Sunday of every month or perhaps weekly. This only takes a couple of minutes, but it keeps the resolutions front and center.
Be honest about what’s working and what’s not. There’s no shame or failure in realizing that you need to disengage from a goal that’s not working for you the way you’d hoped and re-engaging with a new goal.
7. Be Balanced
Resolutions should be balanced in their focus. Some goals should be focused on yourself, and others should be focused on your relationships with others.
For example, a child whose primary role is student may have a balance of resolutions that look like this:
1. Turn in all my homework on time. (To do this, I will put a key chain on my backpack zipper. When I turn in my homework, I will take off the keychain and put it in the pocket.)
2. Write down all of my assignments. (I will use three colors of pens – blue for daily assignments, green for longer projects).
3. Say “hi” to all of my teachers when I walk into class.
4. Bring one extra cookie in my lunch once a week to share with a friend.
Notice how these resolutions are specific, measureable, easy to evaluate and include a balance of things the child is doing for himself (homework and assignments) and things he is doing for others (greeting teachers and sharing with friends).
By following these seven tips, your odds of success are far greater than the 7% odds for the rest of the population.
Happy Goal Setting!