If you’ve ever set a new year’s resolution and succumbed to failure after a few weeks, you probably asked yourself, how to be more consistent?
What will make the difference for success?
One in Five People Make Long-Term Change
The richest pool of research on how to be consistent comes out of studies on new year's resolutions. We often think of resolutions as being destined to fail. In fact, success rates are higher than we think.
Just the act of setting and pursuing a resolution helps us understand something important about the nature of progress: It’s not instant. It is incremental. Even major breakthroughs are made possible by modest gains.
In a series of studies, scientists found that contrary to the belief that all resolutions fail, a surprisingly high percentage (40 percent) of people follow through with resolutions at 6 months. Interestingly, resolutions are more effective than simply setting a goal but not making a new year’s resolution (4 percent success rate) (1).
Resolution success rates drop as more time passes but the successes are still notable. Being consistent with a resolution fell from 40 percent at 6 months to 19 percent at two years (1). Although this rate is lower, it still means that one in five people managed to change something about themselves because of the calendar. Failure is a matter of perspective.
Resolutions Can Work Under The Right Circumstances
When setting a goal, be as specific as possible about what you want to accomplish. This entails answering the question of what, when, where, and why you are choosing this goal. It should identify what you want to accomplish and the detailed steps you will take to get there.
For example, it may seem like “I want to lose ten pounds in three months” is specific, but you need to break the goal down into specific actions to make it reachable. Set specific goals for food intake, exercise, and lifestyle actions to make weight loss much more reachable.
This is where you give yourself a serious reality check. Goals should be attainable, not idealistic dreams that are undoable due to time constraints or the nature of how the world works.
For instance, saying you want to stop eating bread for the rest of your life may be useful if you are a bread hound, but it’s not very realistic. A more attainable goal is to cut out bread for a week. If that seems scary, you could cut back so that you only eat a certain amount of bread at one meal a day.
#3: Positive Focused
Orienting your goals toward accomplishing something good instead of avoiding something bad sets you up to be consistent. It’s a way tricking yourself to replace a negative habit with positive action.
For example, if you want to spend less time on your phone, you have a better chance if you commit to reading a book than if you delete Instagram, as starting a new activity is stickier than quitting an old one. Soon it no longer feels like a chore. It becomes a habit.
Other factors that encourage help you to be consistent include:
Having experience with stimulus control. Are you able to identify the factors that trigger you to make bad choices, pause a moment, and choose to do something else?
Willpower. Are you able to delay gratification and resist short-term temptations to meet long-term goals?
Self-reward. Do you have a system for rewarding yourself when you reach prescribed benchmarks related to your goal?
Certain types of resolutions have low success rates:
Certain types of resolutions appear destined to fail. Goals involving quitting an addiction like smoking or drinking are associated with high rates of relapse. Of course, these goals are important, but they are more likely to be successful when you work with an expert who can coach you through both the physical and mental barriers to leaving an addiction behind.
Resolutions aimed at weight loss generally are not effective. This may be because too many different factors impact body weight and people are unable to control enough of them to make a significant impact. Employing experts in the form of a nutrition coach, trainer, and therapist allows you to be consistent and account for the many factors that impact body composition.
Take Away Points To Help You Be Consistent:
- Goals should be specific, realistic, and measurable.
- Break long-term goals down into shorter benchmarks that you can focus on day-to-day.
- Look for obstacles and plan for setbacks.
- Employ experts to coach you through pain points and supply accountability so you stay consistent.
- Orient goals towards accomplishing something rewarding instead of avoiding something negative.