It’s that time of year again – the time of “new year, new me” and syllabus quizzes. Even if you aren’t big on New Year’s resolutions, it is likely that you have some goals for the semester.
For me, I want to manage my stress better, which means meditating for 10 minutes each morning and going to the gym 3-4 times a week.
Whatever your goal is, – not procrastinating, working out, eating out less – here are a few tips backed by behavioral change scientists that may help you get those goals to stick.
Make a plan.
No matter what your goal is, you need to find time to do it. If you don’t already have a planner or a calendar with your schedule mapped out, that is a great first step. Then, after adding in all of your classes, meetings, and other requirements, block out time to complete whatever goal you have. If you want to cook dinner more often, block out time in the weekend to meal prep or time in the evening to cook. If you plan a time to complete a task, you are much more likely to do it.
Remind yourself of the benefits.
When we first make goals, we likely do so because we know they will benefit us in someway. Though some of these benefits may be short-term, like saving money on food, it is likely that a lot of the benefits will not show up right away. So, when the time comes to work toward that goal, we might choose to seek immediate benefits (like enjoying another episode of our favorite show) rather than completing a task with delayed benefits. If this is the case, remind yourself of long-term goals and try to notice the small steps along the way.
Connect your goal with your values.
Even when we know the benefits of an activity, such as working out, we still sometimes can’t bring ourselves to do it. Another way we can overcome this is by connecting those benefits or the activity itself with your values. For example, if you value healthy relationships in your life, and your goal is to meditate, connect the practice of meditation with your relationships. Meditation makes you less reactive and increases compassion, two things that will help you when interacting with other people. In short, figure out what is important to you and how your goal helps cultivate those things in your life.
Share your goal with someone you respect.
You have probably heard the advice to share your goal with other people in order to hold yourself accountable. Unfortunately, sharing your goal with just anyone may not do as much good as we think it does. However, sharing your goal with someone you perceive as higher status or with someone you respect may make you more dedicated and persistent toward your goal.
Don’t rely on willpower alone.
A lot of times we think that we can do something simply because we want to. Unfortunately, motivation doesn’t really work like that. When we try to rely on sheer will, we tend to not prepare for situations where we may fail. To overcome this, try giving yourself rewards when you make progress toward your goal. You went to the gym today? Have a piece of chocolate. You cooked dinner all week? Go out with friends this weekend. These rewards will reinforce your behavior and you’ll be more likely to do the behavior again.
Enjoy the journey.
If you don’t enjoy the activity you are aiming to do, chances are you won’t end up doing it. Fortunately, there’s good news! You can train yourself to enjoy something. Look for small things that make you smile, or approach the activity with an attitude of enjoyment. Your mindset can totally transform your experience! You can also connect the dreaded activity with another activity you like, such as listening to music. Personally, when I started running on the treadmill, I would watch Netflix in order to help me actually look forward to running.
Give yourself some grace.
Starting a new habit is hard, and you will be far from perfect. You may miss a day at the gym or spend more money than you meant to on food that week. However, one failure does not mean you are done for. Give yourself permission to fail and to experiment with ways that help you reach your goal. Missing one day does not diminish the work you put in the days or weeks before. Simply give yourself a little compassion, then get back on the wagon tomorrow. You got this!
Though these are only a few simple tips, I hope they help you find ways to meet those goals and resolutions this year.
Happy New Year!