Since the dawns of humanity, people have used the cyclicity of time—sunrise/sunset, day/night—to make it measurable and easier to predict. Because when you know what follows, things are easier to deal with. Back in the day when people lived in caves, they used this known variation to optimize their hunting process. And then slowly, days turned into weeks, months and years. We invented work days and week-ends and now we know when to work and when to rest. Suddenly, at some point in history—most might not know it, but there is a perfectly logical explanation for this—the beginning of a new year has suffered a dramatic transformation. It swiftly became a threshold, a time when you leave the past behind, gaze into the future full of hope, and even make a resolution of some sort.
If you look at how we are used to perceive time, some could call this human psychology at its finest, while others might suspect foul play by mass manipulation 😉 Be it as it may, one thing is certain—time is a pure social construct.
Time is now
And now, it’s that time again—all the possibilities of a new year stretch out in front of you. This means chances are high you’ve at least contemplated making some New Year’s resolutions.
This practice doesn’t always have the most successful track record, yet recent data from Fidelity tells a different story. They found that 71 percent of surveyed Americans who made a resolution in 2021 were able to keep it—an increase from 58 percent in 2020. Not to mention, 84 percent agree the uncertainty of this pandemic has taught them to release what they can’t control and focus instead on realistic goals they can achieve.
No matter how feasible a New Year’s (or not necessarily New Year’s) resolution is for you, if you intent to do it, at least do it right. Start by making a clear, decisive plan with action steps and milestones along the way. Doing this work on the frontend will help orient you in the right direction, measure your progress, and fuel your commitment for the long-term.
Here’s a simple blueprint on how to make—and keep—a resolution.
Choose a SMART resolution
The human urge to strive and perform can cause many people to set unattainable goals for themselves, according to the Harvard Business Review. But the thing is, setting unattainable goals means preparing yourself up for failure.
The easiest way to avoid this unproductive cycle is to select a resolution you can attain, using the SMART model. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The following rundown will walk you through how to create such a SMART resolution:
- Specific: Clearly define the resolution by asking yourself these questions: What do I want to accomplish? Why is it important or applicable to my life? What skills, resources, and other logistics are required to meet the goal?
- Measurable: Be sure the resolution can be tracked with quantifiable metrics in order to calculate the progress you make and milestones you reach. This data will keep you motivated to continue pushing to the finish line.
- Achievable: Evaluate whether or not this resolution can realistically be achieved. For instance: Do you have the financial means, technical skills, or interpersonal support you’ll need to be successful in the pursuit of this goal?
- Relevant: Consider if the resolution aligns with other main priorities by asking yourself these questions: Is the goal worthwhile? Is now the right moment to pursue it? Will it help further the life I want? Am I the ideal person to take this on? Does it make sense in the current socioeconomic landscape?
- Time-Bound: Establish a target date for when you plan to attain the resolution. Whether it’s 30 days, six months, or a year from now, creating this deadline will give you a real-time focal point to hold yourself accountable to.
Build a three-prong action plan
Create a practical and sustainable action plan you can stick with over time. To be able to do that, keep in mind what Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, said in a recent interview with Vox: “there’s a basic structure to habits… a cue, a routine, and a reward; this is called a habit loop.”
A cue is a trigger that activates a certain urge, a routine is a behavior you turn to in reaction to that urge, and a reward is the feeling you experience from this behavior. So to achieve a resolution, you need to identify the cues, routines, and rewards that encourage the new habit to take root.
Those three prongs will become the basis of your action plan. Below is an example of how to use the cue, routine, and reward framework to pursue your resolution:
- Resolution: I want to spend less time on social media in 2022.
- Cue: I feel lonely which urges me to scroll mindlessly on social media, so I need to be aware of what drives that sense of isolation.
- Routine: I reach for social media to feel more connected, but I can also call a friend to chat or invite them to meet for coffee.
- Reward: I spend more time investing in my relationships face-to-face instead of just seeing their posts on my social media feed.
- Habit: I don’t feel an automatic urge to check social media constantly so I spend less time on it.
Factor in hurdles or setbacks
You’ve set the direction, and your plan is in motion—but what about when life throws a curveball that hinders your progress? Setbacks are inevitable, so be flexible and willing to pivot to a plan B (or even C) when necessary.
It can be tempting to quit on your resolution when challenges make it harder or the fear of failure creeps in. But if you recognize that hurdles are just part of the process, you’ll build the resilience to course correct.
“Successful people have the same problems and challenges as less successful people. The difference between the two is how you deal with the issues that you’re confronted with,” says Adam Stott, author, entrepreneur, and business consultant.
Here are some ways to prepare for setbacks, then develop the skills to overcome them:
- Learn from and eliminate your fears: View a situation that scares or forces you outside of your comfort zone as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than an insurmountable obstacle to avoid or run away from.
- Build grit to increase your endurance: Don’t allow the setbacks to discourage or disillusion you. Take some time to rest and re-energize whenever it’s hard, then renew your commitment to keep moving forward.
- Do not delay in making decisions: Choose a particular course of action, then be confident in that decision. Procrastination, indecisiveness, or second guesses can prevent you from taking any action whatsoever.
- Be determined in all circumstances: Instead of worrying about the external circumstances you can’t control, focus on what you do have personal agency over: your own determination to not back down.
Celebrate the wins
Research in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that self-affirmation can help you transition from thinking you’re powerless into feeling competent and motivated to see a goal to completion. No matter where you’re at in the resolution process, affirm yourself for the work you put in and celebrate the victories at every step of the way.
- Create your self-affirmations based on what you know you struggle with. For example, if you tend to underestimate yourself, an affirmation you may say when you’re about to give up is, “I’m more capable than I know.”
- Set aside time to celebrate on a regular basis. Take an hour every Friday, for example, to celebrate your wins for the week. Put it on your calendar so you don’t skip over it.
- Share your wins with someone else. Share it on social media, with your community, or just a close friend who you know will want to cheer you on.
Make these self-affirmations personal, meaningful, and consistent.
Resolution means determination
You might or might not be the kind of person who makes a New Year’s resolution. Personally, I like bending time and set up resolutions at the weirdest time possible 😉
Yet, regardless of the moment you choose for making a resolution, always start by planning for success. Use these simple but highly effective action steps to see it through. And don’t give up when challenges come up. At the end, the win will feel even sweeter.
And remember, time is a social construct—use it in your favor and not to put even more pressure on yourself. Let time work for you, not against you. Bend it to your needs and not the other way around, because you are the reference system.
Happy New Year!