Everyone desires self-improvement and that’s why most of us set personal goals for the new year. Yet, statistics show that only around 8% of us actually succeed in keeping our resolutions. Why do so many people struggle with goal-keeping, and what are the secrets of those who are successful? Studies offer some insight into the psychology behind our resolutions —and importantly, how we can do better at keeping them.

Resolvers Vs. Nonresolvers

One interesting fact we discovered is that those of us who make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve our goals than those who don’t. What’s more, 45% of successful resolvers possessed self-efficacy, the skills to change, and the readiness to change —prior to January 1st. At least one month into the new year, this group focused on cognitive and behavioral motivations whereas the unsuccessful resolvers tended toward a more emotional approach. The takeaway here is plain and simple: to be successful, you have to have a specific and focused mindset going in.

From Qualitative and Broad to SMART: Goal Setting 101

According to a 2017 Marist University poll, topping the list for last year’s resolutions were:

  • Being a better person – 16%
  • Weight loss – 10%
  • Exercising more – 10%
  • Spending less money and saving more – 7%
  • Improving one’s health – 7%
  • Eating healthier – 7%

Notice that there are no specific measures associated with these resolutions. Perhaps, by making your goals broader in scope or subjective in nature, you have a better chance at success? Many experts still hold fast to the SMART method of goal setting. SMART stands for:

Specific – goals are clearly defined

Measurable – goals are tangible

Achievable – goals are reasonable and attainable

Results-focused – goals are measured by outcomes, not activities

Time-bound – there is a deadline to reach your goal

Factors for Success

As we mentioned earlier, a positive and focused mindset is the best predictor of successful resolutions. There is more to it, though. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) released the following statistics regarding specific factors that improve the likelihood of success:

  • The goal was your idea and a conscious choice – 25%
  • You decided when you would do it – 40%
  • You planned how you would do it – 50%
  • You told someone you would do it – 65%
  • You have a specific accountability partner – 95%

Goal Setting Tips

Don’t keep it a secret. Let your family and friends know about your New Year’s resolutions. Having an accountability partner to keep you on track while you strive to quit smoking, drinking, or overeating is crucial to your success. Plus, your real friends will never put temptation in front of you. So, don’t be afraid to seek help and support from those who care about you.

Join forces. It can be difficult to make meaningful and lasting changes on your own. Having shared goals, such as healthy eating, exercise, or weight loss will improve both individuals’ chance for success.

Accept any setbacks but keep moving forward. It’s important to remember that when you are trying to change behaviors and habits, there will be setbacks. Don’t feel guilty but instead accept it is part of the process. These behaviors likely took years to develop. There are no quick fixes in making these major lifestyle changes.

Focus on one change at a time. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is trying to change too much at once. If you want to be more fit and healthier: give up drinking, quit smoking, join a gym, and eat clean. But don’t do all of them at once. Instead, choose one goal at a time.

Finally, remember that you have only as much willpower as you believe you have. As you prepare for the new year, we hope you feel encouraged to develop a focused mindset, make positive changes, and achieve your goals —whatever they may be.