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Work & Family

4 Fresh Ways to Approach New Year’s Resolutions

3 min read January 06, 2021

This new year feels different than any other we've experienced in the past—so much so that the idea of New Year's resolutions may feel like another hurdle. But hold on one minute.

Resolutions can give us something to strive toward. And in a time like this, it's helpful to set objectives we can look forward to. However, while 60 percent of people get excited by the prospect of making New Year's resolutions, only eight percent achieve them. How can you try to improve your odds? Take a more strategic approach. Consider these fresh techniques to help make your resolutions a reality.

1. Make hypotheses

Hypotheses—if you’ll recall from high school science class—are used as a starting point for further investigation. When it comes to goal-setting, researcher Jeanne Ross of MIT Sloan School of Management suggests that formulating hypotheses, rather than focusing on goals, is a better way for companies and employees to get results. The benefit of making hypotheses is that they're meant to be tested, so there’s built-in wiggle room when it comes to the results. Plus, you're in the mindset of getting constant feedback and making adjustments, as needed.

For example, if your resolution is to expand your professional network this year, then your hypothesis might be that putting a networking event on your calendar each week will make you more likely to attend all of them. By allowing for testing, you might find that one a week is too many. A more realistic strategy might be to do one form of networking each month, like setting up meet-and-greets with people you'd like to connect with.

2. Be detailed when writing in your journal

You may have heard that writing down your goals makes you more likely to follow through. But is just writing them down enough? New research may help answer that question.

In one recent study, the combination of writing about personal life goals and specifying a strategy to attain them was related to a 22 percent increase in higher academic performance in college students, compared to control groups who didn't engage in those activities. In addition, the more specific students were about strategies to attain their goals, the more success they had. That means in addition to writing down your goals, you should also be specific about the steps you're taking to achieve them: What hypotheses are you experimenting with? What have you learned thus far? Explore these questions and any others that come to mind.

3. Change your outlook on setbacks

When we're motivated to see change happen, it seems counterintuitive to accept when circumstances take us off course. But some research shows that setbacks may be beneficial. One study revealed that people who had setbacks early in their careers went on outperform their study counterparts who didn't experience those setbacks.

With this information, we can learn to view setbacks differently. If you end up falling short of your resolution, try not to be too hard on yourself. Instead, use that experience as fuel to recalibrate your approach and recommit to the process.

4. Create behavior cues and rewards

Keeping your New Year's resolution probably requires creating a new habit. According to research, the best way to go about doing that is to set up specific cues to practice your new habit and then reward yourself afterward.

For example, if your resolution is to go for a run three times a week, you could try sleeping with your workout gear on or putting your sneakers by the bed (that's your cue). After you've completed three runs, you can indulge in your favorite dessert or watch a movie you've been looking forward to (that's your reward).

The idea is to create constant reminders of your new habit followed by positive reinforcement.

Remember that resolutions don't happen overnight—change takes time. Be on the lookout for signs of burnout, and don't forget to make self-care a priority throughout the year.

Nothing in these materials is intended to be advice for a particular situation or individual. These materials are for general information purposes only.