How to set resolutions right?

A study suggests 80% of resolutions fail by February. Another study by Scranton University suggests only 8% of people who set resolutions succeed. I did a little survey on my Instagram profile, with the most active users from J&K, and found out that about 80% of the respondents who set resolutions failed to keep up.

But why do resolutions fail? I can think of two possible reasons. First, we do not set them right. Second, we do not execute them well.

When I looked up the most popular new year resolutions online, I realized that most of them were habit oriented resolutions like losing weight, book reading, quitting smoking, etc., so this article mainly pertains to them.

So how to set resolutions right? An effective way is to set them ‘SMARTly’, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. If you wish to lose weight, your SMART resolution, depending upon your Body-Mass Index, can be a realistic number with a timeline attached to it e.g. I will lose 15 KG by 30th June. Similarly, your SMART resolution for book reading becomes, ‘I will read 35 books by 31st December.’ The more specific, the better. You may even write down the list of books you wish to finish reading. A step ahead, you may even order the books straightaway.

Now that the resolution has been set, what’s the best way to work on it so that it works. There is no best way. Our brains are wired to seek instant gratification. Have you ever wondered why it is that despite knowing the ill effects of smoking, people smoke? Why do people overeat when they know it results in obesity and heart diseases? The answer is simple. People love the immediate relief the puffs of smoke and mindless eating provide. Starting a new habit invokes a lot of resistance from our body and similar things happen when we want to break a bad one. We can either rely on the age-old overrated ‘willpower’ or use some easy brain hacks. As long as I get results, I will always choose the second method.

These hacks root in our understanding of how the brain works when a habit is formed or broken. Keeping the neurology, physiology, and the jargons at bay, for a habit to stick, as James Clear points in his book ‘The Atomic Habits’, it must be made obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. Similarly, for a bad habit to go away, it must be made invisible, unattractive, difficult, and repulsive.

These are a few things you can do.

1. Create an environment that aligns with your resolution: If you want to inculcate book reading as a habit, buy books and keep some besides your bed. Similarly, trying to quit smoking? Get rid of all the cigarette packs and ashtrays at your place. What we see affects our decisions. Marketing people use this technique all the time. Why not use it on yourself!

2. Start small: The idea is to stick to the resolution and not overdo it just for a few days. To master a habit, we must first master showing up for it every day. If you want to lose weight, rather than hitting the gym for 3 hours straight on 1st January, start with a few push-ups in your room. Keep doing it till it becomes second nature. You can increase the intensity later. Similarly, for book reading, start with a page.

3. Mind your company: It’s said we are the average of 5 people we spend the most time with. If you want to install a habit, be with people who have the habit, and follow similar influencers on social media. Our company affects our choices in unimaginable ways.

4. Be conscious of your thoughts: The instant gratification monkey in you will always want you to focus on the immediate reward, and he does it in a fraction of a second. We must, consciously, remind ourselves of the consequences of our choices. A cookie or a puff of a cigarette does not change much but it may change how we identify ourselves, and that, my friend, changes everything.

5. Document the progress: Most of the good habits like exercise, eating healthy, rising early, etc show delayed progress. Not seeing much progress can be a big demotivator. A simple hack is to document the progress and routine on a calendar daily. Encircle the days you repeat the activity. As you see the number of circles increasing, your motivation levels will grow too.

Once you achieve your goals, it should not make you complacent, but motivate you to set higher and more complex ones. Progress begets happiness. Let’s make 2021 the year of progress and growth, but for that, you must start. Remember, a year from now you would wish you had started today.

Dr. Farhat Umar is Online educator and motivational content creator