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How to set goals that stick

Did you know you are ten times more likely to make positive improvements in your life if you make a New Year’s Resolution, even if you do not achieve the resolution itself? Perhaps you want to train for a 5K, commit to meat-free Mondays, meet your dissertation targets, or get that long planned trip out of your Pinterest boards. There are endless amounts of resolutions and goals that give us hope that we can commit to making our dreams our reality – maybe it’s helpful to think less about what the change is and more about how you can best succeed. One in three Brits will throw in the towel just two weeks into the new year but there is hope; simple behavioural psychology can show us what we are doing wrong when setting our goals and what steps will take us forward to success. Lack of planning, poor tracking, and unrealistic goals are the top three reasons why resolutions fail. Here are three tips, backed by behavioural psychology, to help you gain the best chance at sticking to your resolution.

Baby steps: Say your goal is to run a 10K by the end of the year but you haven’t completed a 5K yet. If you miss a day or two of training it can be easy to give up, too easy, so don’t stop there. Instead, start off with baby steps. As small as laying out your running outfit by your bed so in the morning it’s the first thing you see. Then move onto changing into your running clothes as soon as you wake up. As small as these steps may seem, all actions add up. It’s important to remember the big picture and not to get bogged up by perfection.

Attainable goals: Veganism is growing in popularity and has become a popular New Year’s resolution however many give up early into the year. Feasting on all the trimmings at Christmas and then expecting a week later to go cold turkey is unrealistic. Shift from a perfectionism mindset to a consistency mindset and experience the benefits. Perhaps try meat-free Mondays or switch to oat milk in your coffee order. When you set yourself attainable goals that you are likely to achieve you can build momentum toward larger life changes.

Support networks: Maybe the aftermath of Hogmanay celebrations provoked a reassessment of your drinking habits. Alcohol is a huge part of student culture and can be hard to escape. A support network is essential when tackling something as socially ingrained as alcohol. Joining a community for dry January connects you to a support network of people on the same journey of 31 days with no alcohol. Consider having a sober buddy on nights out so you don’t feel left out. A support network improves your chances of succeeding so surround yourself with people with similar goals or those who will keep you accountable. Don’t underestimate the power of a supportive environment.

The saying “new year, new me” leans into the psychology of identifying with your goal or new lifestyle. New Year’s resolutions are a positive way to look at our life and see what we could be doing differently. The ‘fresh start effect’ is what gives power to New Year’s resolutions. A blank slate opens up and the previous year becomes the past. We all get given an opportunity to see if we have it in us to make this year different from the last. 

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