Nancy Scott, director of leadership development programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, knows how to craft a New Year’s resolution that works. An industrial and organizational psychologist who conducts assessments for Haslam students and corporate clients, Scott says that successful resolutions start with a plan. She has divided her approach into four simple steps:
Prioritize One Goal – Maybe Two
If you set too many goals, you’ll soon be splitting your attention. That’s why it’s important to reflect on what matters to you most and choose one or two goals. Scott recommends separating personal and professional goals.
“If you limit yourself, your goals are more likely to stick with you,” Scott says. “Use your values as a guide, and consider what’s realistic based on constraints like time commitments and what you may have to sacrifice to achieve your goal.”
Scott also suggests weighing your current situation to assess what displeases you the most. “Removing negative stimuli can be as motivating as gaining a positive reward,” she says.
Formulate SMART Goals
SMART goals are: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Your resolution should be formulated as a SMART goal. Instead of resolving to save money in 2018, fix a realistic dollar value to your goal. To maintain your motivation, make sure to choose a goal that is achievable.
“Moderate difficulty is the sweet spot,” Scott says. “When goals are too difficult, we become frustrated. If they are too easy, we lose our drive.”
Create an Action Plan
To create an action plan, start with your end goal in mind and work backwards. Break your daunting resolution down and give yourself checkpoints, or mini-goals, along the way.
“This is personality-based,” Scott says. “There’s isn’t one set number of action steps, so think about what approach could be right for you.”
Creating measurable checkpoints helps define an action plan and can make your New Year’s resolution less intimidating. If you want to save money, for instance, have your goal be to save $15 a week by making coffee at home on three days. Scott recommends starting your action plan with easier goals to build your confidence and then gradually increasing their difficulty.
Checkpoints also allow you to recalibrate your strategy over time. You may need to work on your motivation at some point, or you may decide to challenge yourself more intensely.
Giving yourself small victories will help as you pursue your New Year’s resolution. It takes a while for the positive feeling of accomplishment to take root, Scott says, and giving yourself rewards over time helps you maintain motivation by making you feel good. Eventually, however, a self-reinforcing cycle kicks in wherein accomplishing a goal becomes its own reward.
“Over time, we gain satisfaction for making progress and are then able to make our goals more challenging,” she says. “Make sure you reward yourself with things you value. For some it’s relaxation time, for others it’s sports tickets. Reward yourself for your small victories along the way.”