‘I’ll try again next year,’ and other phrases characterize most of our attitudes towards New Year’s resolutions. By February, most of us are back to our previous year’s habits with a tinge of guilt that slowly fades as the year progresses. If you’re among said demographic, it’s not entirely your fault; we are creatures of habit, making change very hard.

That is not to say it is not possible. Efficiently setting a goal is a contributing factor to the achievement of our resolutions. Other factors discussed in this article equally change the ability to see through our plans and hitting set targets.

‘End world hunger’ syndrome

While ensuring all impoverished populations are adequately fed is admirable, for the most part, it is unattainable. Let’s assume you set this goal, how would you go about it? To achieve such a task requires breaking it down into small achievable goals that contribute to the bigger picture.

Writing down things like ‘work out more, spend less and find inner peace’ are all great, they are too big and have no guidelines or markers of success. Working out more could mean taking the stairs only when intense cardio and toning makes more sense. It is this lack of setting small goals that set people up to fail as soon as January ends. As soon as a target feels too big to achieve, it will cease being a priority.

Using the example of world hunger, your community is the best place is to start. Volunteering at a food shelter or donating foodstuff to a bank would be more practical. If you want to eat healthily, start with small goals. Instead of eating chocolate every day, having it a few times a week in small quantities is more doable. If your goal is to lose weight, saying you’ll go to the gym three to four times a week is not entirely realistic. However, beginning your day with 15-minute cardio exercises on your living room floor feel more attainable.

The trick is to weight your small goals against your commitment levels. They also need to be specific- you should be able to answer in great detail how you’ll go about it. Do you want to save money? How? By opening a savings account and making regular deposits of x amount.

Is it measurable?

Goals need to be measurable. How do you know if you’ve achieved your goal? Let’s say you want to start a new facial treatment to help fight acne that you’ve been putting off dealing with. Taking photos of how your face is responding helps track the progress as well as visibly show you what’s working and what isn’t. Do you want to cut back on cursing? Log every time you curse on your phone or notebook that you carry with you. Tally the results at the end of the day to know how well, or poorly, you’re doing.

Answering the great ‘why’

If you’re losing weight because your partner called you round a couple of times, what happens when you break up? It is unlikely that you’d stuck to your goal. However, if you’re doing it for health issues, or just because you’re tired of being tired all the time, you have a fighting chance of sticking with it.

Having a dependable ‘why’ enables you to stick with a task even when the going gets tough. It also shows you who’s for you and who’s a hindrance in achieving your goal. You’ll be able to get people, and tools, around you that encourage you to take the extra steps to get the job done. Whatever your reason, make sure it’s a step toward enriching your life done from a place of love and not self-loathing or remorse.

Feeling like there’s too much pressure to succeed is an indication that you’re not doing it for yourself.

When do I want to this by?

Changing a habit takes a long time, so your plans need to reflect this. A lifestyle change, and maintaining it, is a life-long desire. Having smaller intermediate goals keeps the ball rolling. If saving money is a habit you want to adopt, your long-term goal may be having a comfortable retirement, with buying a home, saving for your children’s trip or saving for a month-long cruise could be your mini-goals.

Write it down

Science shows us that power of writing our goals down. It increases the chances of accomplishing them and makes us accountable. Write them in a place that’s visible and are likely to see regularly, if not daily. A journal is another place you can ink your vision. Journaling your progress helps in tracking your progress. Interestingly enough, you’ll be able to note areas of self-sabotage, like when you make excuses for not doing a set task.

Understanding the root of your behavior undoes procrastination and other vices that keep you from attaining your goal. You’re able to recognize behavioral patterns and address them as they occur. Depending on your goal, you need to set regular check-ins; a time where you can focus on assessing your progress.

During this time, feel free to tweak your plants into something your lifestyle accommodates. If you’re not a morning person, the opting to meditate before bedtime should be your new strategy. It makes it less tasking your mind and body.

Incorporate it into your daily plan

New goals are exciting, but the longer they stay on your to-do-list, they more they appear less significant. Just as you plan the home, school or work activities that need undertaking within a single week, your goal should equally feature when these get laid out. Find a way to incorporate them in a way that makes them effortless. Try and schedule in exercise times, say, after work and before dinner. That way, when you have a dedicated chunk of time, ignoring or forgetting becomes unlikely. Don’t wait to ‘feel like it.’ The chances are that you won’t.

Accountability partners

When someone comments on a post from January a few months on inquiring about your weight loss journey, telling the person you’ve done nothing to that effect can be embarrassing. By making your resolutions public or to a group of people makes it harder to back out. Checking in with them about your journey not only keeps you motivated because eyes are on you, but it also inspires others to do the same.

Another approach is to create a community of people with similar interests. When demotivated, the group can act as cheerleaders as well as sharing tips, changes, and progress with one another. This space should foster honesty and a spirit of ‘no man left behind’ to make the goal both fun and easy to attain.

It’s crucial to have the right people around you. Persons that express doubt about your ability to achieve a goal need to be cut off, at least in the meantime.

Celebrate, celebrate, and celebrate

Self-motivating is as important as focusing on the endgame. Often doing things that are good for us feel like a chore. Setting a grand party one a goal gets achieves makes it harder to reach it in the first place.

However, setting a reward system for milestones makes our efforts feel worthwhile. They don’t have to be big wins. If you managed to save $30 every week from not eating out as often, at the end of the month, you can take a small percentage (emphasis on small) and spoil yourself to a meal. Have you lost five out of the 20 pounds you wish to drop? It could be buying a single outfit that you’ve been eyeing for months or a trip to the barber shop for a new haircut. Use your journal to document the milestones as well as plan future celebrations.

Forgive your ‘oops’ moments

If you ever end up eating out for a whole week, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Think of all the people who started their New Year’s resolutions and fell off along the way. What sets you apart should be the ability to get back of course, and how fast you do it.

Feeling guilty and beating yourself up about it, create a plan to ensure that the same mistake does not happen twice. Giving up altogether out of guilt or deeming yourself a failure undoes all the efforts. You stand to lose more from walking away than you would if you pushed through and mitigated the lapse. Was your goal to stay positive but you yelled at everyone, including the neighbor’s cat? Get back into the right space, apologies and do a random act of kindness to get your head back into the game.

You’re your own best friend

While this sounds like something, Beyoncé sang about (it is), being your greatest fan is better than having a support system or people you’re accountable to. People won’t always care about your goals, not because they are bad people, but because they have other things to focus on within their lives. That becomes problematic if you were used to having someone give you a push.

Your goals need to be vital to you; you need to have a substantial reason for doing what you want. Are you saving because it’s a good idea or because you want to purchase a piece of property or go back to school? They pay off needs to be clear enough for you to push through even when there is no one round to give you a nudge.

Keep it simple

Don’t spend large amounts of money getting gym gear that you’ll likely use a few times. Making grand changes, though it makes the process feel exciting, it’s not likely to stick if it doesn’t align with your personality or lifestyle. Stay true to yourself; don’t copy what others are doing but rather chart your path that authentic to the core of who you are. It is this sense of ownership that keeps you accountable to yourself. If during your reviews you see something needs to be added to the experience to enhance it, the do so.

If it works, stick to it

This point ties back to your oops moment. These instances come about when we have our guard down. Doing well, though it’s a fantastic confidence booster, it makes us vulnerable to the follies of the ego. Say you’ve been planning to quit drinking and have been avoiding the group of people you drank with. A few months down the line, going out with them would not be a good idea.

Only the strong-willed and those entirely intentional about their goal are likely to say no to ‘just one drink.’ If you wish to spend time with your friends, opt for activities that do not include alcohol or whatever vices you are looking to give up. Don’t assume you’ve reached guru status just because you’ve been ticking off your milestones.

Believe you can do it

Self-doubt is a dream killer. You don’t have to go to great lengths to convince yourself to do something. Just laying out targets that you are confident you can meet is the best approach. On the flip side, the people we look up to stepped out of their comfort zone to accomplish things that we admire them for. Rewiring your mind will get you further along in life than sticking to things you can do with your eyes clothes. Walking seemed to be very hard as a toddler, yet here you are.

Positive thinking is superb, but so is action

Just like willpower, positive thinking doesn’t always get you past the morning hours until life happens. Each positive thought should be followed through by an act; otherwise, they fall under the daydream and fantasizing category. Staying realistic is also important. Look into the challenges that you may encounter and find tactical ways to combat them.

Place something on the line

When you have something that you’d stand to lose, for example money increases the stakes. Donating half your closet should coincide with your targeted date of losing 10 pounds. That will motivate you to meet the deadline, especially if you’d promised only to buy new clothes when you reach your goal. The pain of losing something will keep you moving even on days you don’t feel like it.

If at first, you don’t succeed

Failing should not be an opportunity for a self-beat up. You are still better off than you were before embarking on your journey. Starting afresh should not have to happen in the coming year; you can start anytime. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall off the wagon, just keep trying.

Final thoughts

Changing habits is quite tricky. As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you’re taking the stairs more often, you are still better off than you were when you only took the elevator. Small changes, and succeeding at them, increase one’s confidence to make more changes.

Most of all is to be kind to yourself. Only speak to yourself how you’d talk to someone you cared about- or a child. Continual doses of encouragement and acts of self-love keep the fire to change burning. It does so for a lot longer than if kicking your-self for not doing something right. Sure, more than half of resolutions fail, but they don’t have to be yours this year.

Remember, clear, realistic, actionable and time-bound goals, having a support system and believing in, and cheerleading and celebrating yourself along the way are at the core of making your dreams a reality.

By Chakraborty

Dr Chakrabarty is the Chief Innovation Officer of IntuiComp TeraScience. Earlier she was Assistant Professor of Delhi University, a QS ranked university in India. Before that she has held research positions in IIT Mumbai, IIT Chennai and IISc Bangalore. She holds 2 patents and over 20 research publications in her name which are highly cited. Her area of research is in smart technologies, integrated devices and communications. She also has a penchant for blogging and is an editor of Business Fundas.