'Tis the season for self-improvement! And whether you want to get back to the gym after too many desserts over the holidays, get the best grades of your life this semester or just want to read more books in 2019, setting a New Year's resolution might be the trick to help you succeed.
But here's the thing: Most people fail at their resolutions. And if you've fallen short in the past (or flat out forgotten your resolution after a few weeks), you're not alone. About 80 percent of New Year's resolutions fizzle out by February, Business Insider reports.
In other words, if you aren't making smart resolutions designed to help you succeed, well, you'll probably fail.
But don't worry, science has got your back! Here's what the research says about how to stick to your New Year's goals – so you aren't stuck making the same resolutions next year.
How Successful Resolutions Are Different
Virtually everyone makes New Year's resolutions – but if you want to lean how to really succeed, you need to look at patterns of behavior among people who actually achieved their goals.
That's what psychologist Richard Wiseman did: He tracked 3,000 people's progress toward their New Year's goals, then asked exactly what they did along the way. Not surprisingly, most of the people in his study failed too (about 12 percent of the people in his story actually kept their resolution).
The ones who succeed, though, had a few things in common.
Focus on One Resolution
Instead of resolving to chase several goals at once. So even if you have a few habits you'd like to change, focus on the most pressing one first.
Look to the Future
Dwelling on the failed resolutions from last year aren't doing you any good. Instead, focus on what you can do today, tomorrow, next week and so on to meet your goals.
Use Visualization to Stay Motivated
Let's face it: Changing up your routine is tough, and sheer willpower can only get you so far. So think about how your goals will really affect your life – for example, upping your GPA to get into your choice of colleges – to help you push through difficult days.
Set Specific and Concrete Goals
If your goal is to "get fit," it's easy to dodge your resolution on a day to day basis (after all, you can always work out tomorrow, right?). Instead, set specific goals – "I'll hit the gym three times a week in January, then up it to four times in February."
And record your progress (say, by noting each workout in your calendar) to stay accountable. Each time you succeed in your goal for the day, that surge of feel-good hormones will trigger the reward system in your brain, keeping your motivated.
Make Room for Mistakes
You'll get the most out of your resolution if you're in it for the long haul, whether you want to make fitness part of your lifestyle or stay a straight-A student for the rest of your education. So while you should keep yourself accountable to your goals, don't dwell on the occasional mixup and slide back into your old habits.
Tomorrow's a new day – and a new opportunity to achieve your goals.
About the Author
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.