How to finally create a "new you" in the new year

Jan. 21, 2020, 8:07 a.m. | By Shifra Dayak | 3 years, 4 months ago

SCO's guide to building good habits in 2020

It's that time of year again. The next 12 months, chock-full of opportunity, stretch out in front of you. The horizon is bright with promise and the air is filled with the sweet smell of success. On a crisp sheet of paper that is soon to be given a place of honor on the side of your refrigerator, you neatly list your New Year's resolutions: 

Learn to cook gourmet meals, live a completely waste-free lifestyle, swim the Atlantic Ocean, bring back the golden toad from extinction… 

And then, after two seemingly perfect days, you fall back into reality with a crash. You've failed once again. 

Okay, maybe it doesn't go exactly like that. But in my experience, post-New Year's failure isn't too different. Since you are reading this, I assume you have also been in the approximately 80 percent of Americans who fail to complete their New Year's resolutions in a given year. But if you're serious about building better habits in 2020, you're in the right place. This is SCO's five-step guide to actually making your New Year's resolutions count. 

1. Remember that big does not mean good. 

Instead of setting resolutions that are too demanding or ambitious, aim for realistic, short-term goals. Rather than vowing to swim the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps it's wise to commit to going to your local pool once a week instead. Starting small is the key to meaningful change. "It is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time,” says Lynn Bufka, a policy researcher at the American Psychological Association. 

If you want to go a step further, consider abandoning the traditional method of listing out resolutions and simply think of a theme for the year instead. For those who find the pressure of following resolutions off-putting, picking a word like "mindfulness" or "connection" to center your actions around can often be more productive and welcoming. 

2. Be specific!

Use intentional scheduling to dictate how you will implement your desired lifestyle changes. For example, instead of a general "learn to cook gourmet meals,"  specify that you will go grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons from 2-3 p.m. and make dinner every weekend. Assigning specific parts of your day to certain tasks will keep you accountable. Similarly, having distinct boxes to check off will motivate you to maintain interest in your goals. If you want optimal success this year, break your goals down into increments and set checkpoints for yourself. 

3. Actively keep up with routines.

In a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, researcher Phillippa Lally found that it takes individuals 66 days on average to turn goals into cemented habits. If you start practicing your resolution in January, that means it will be at least March before you get used to it. During this time, be responsible about furthering your goals step-by-step, whether that means setting alarms on your phone or posting sticky notes in eye-catching places. If you'd like to lessen your food waste, for example, leave yourself multiple reminders around the house to compost any banana peels or carrot scraps. 

Blazers echo the sentiment of active incorporation. "Be consistent," senior Lucas Brown Decoulston says. "Be sure to keep at it and don't forget your resolution." If you work on creating a routine centered around your goals, they will soon become second nature.

4. Keep it social.

To guarantee that you will be able to follow through with your New Year's resolution, follow Pearson's Law, which states that "when performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates." By finding a respected friend or family member to hold you accountable, you can report your progress back to someone and feel motivated to stick with your goal. 

The American Society of Training and Development found that your chances of completing a goal increase by 65 percent if you commit to checking in with someone, and by 95 percent if you make a specific goal-related appointment with that person. "You don’t want to lie to someone you respect," organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy says. "So when you tell them you’re going to show up this week, you’re more likely to do so." Schedule weekly or monthly appointments with your accountability partner so you can update them on how your resolution is going.

5. Give back to others.

Your resolutions don't just have to be about you! This year, focus on setting giving- or service-based goals that allow you to contribute to your community. Whether you resolve to donate a small amount of money each month, spend time volunteering or simply spend more time with people you care about, resolutions that are centered around others can make you more mindful and generous. If you are looking for organizations to get involved with, the World Wildlife Fund, Manna Food Center and Habitat for Humanity are all great, timely places to start. 

Most importantly, don't get too upset if you slip up. Like senior Elisa Zeng-Mariotti says, "don't feel bad if you can't do it — it's human to make mistakes." You have 300-something more days to start over, so go forth and resolve to embrace the new year!

Last updated: Jan. 21, 2020, 8:07 a.m.

Tags: New Years New Year's Resolutions

Shifra Dayak. Hi, I'm Shifra! If I'm not writing articles or doing homework, I'm probably making music, browsing through dog pictures, eating Thai food, or napping. More »

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