The first month of 2024 is flying by and, for many of us, our New Year’s resolutions have already been left in the dust. While we aspire to better ourselves through optimistic goals, behavior change is challenging. In fact, a recent Forbes Health/One Poll survey shows that only 7 percent of people stick to their New Year’s resolutions and, according to a Strava study, the second Friday in January has become known as Quitter’s Day.
“The biggest mistake people make is setting goals that are too general or overwhelming,” says Joseph Trunzo, Ph.D., Psychology professor and associate director of the School of Health and Behavioral Sciences.
He notes that popular resolutions include being healthier, losing weight, and drinking less alcohol. While these intentions are great in theory, lacking a specific step-by-step plan makes it difficult for individuals to stay committed to their objectives long term.
To ensure you’re not part of the majority who call it quits by January 30, Trunzo suggests setting up micro-goals. These small, achievable goals help you stay motivated since you’re accomplishing something while you inch closer to your main objective.
Being in tune with your behaviors is also a must. Trunzo notes that most people don’t have a good sense of what drives their behavior and do things because they get reinforced or rewarded in some way and don’t do other things because they’re avoiding something.
“If we are not tuned into all of our behaviors, or at least the most important ones, the likelihood of long-term success reduces dramatically,” says Trunzo. “It’s often deeper than ‘it feels good’ or ‘it’s hard.’ Understanding these deeper factors can make a world of difference in successful behavior change.”
It takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic, according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Since staying committed to a goal can be tough, choosing someone to support you and hold you accountable throughout the process can improve outcomes.
“What we often won’t stick to for ourselves we will absolutely stick to for others,” Trunzo says. “The social contract can be very powerful, but it’s important to pick the right partner. There’s a trust and accountability factor here, so keep that in mind when choosing people to help you with your goals.”
As the year advances, make sure you’re monitoring your progress. If you find that you’re not keeping up with your objective, that’s okay. Most people will fail in their efforts to change behavior multiple times before they are successful, which is why every lapse should be viewed as a step toward success. Trunzo notes that the key is to look at your plan, be honest about what’s working and what isn’t, make necessary adjustments, and keep going.
“If people want to use this time of year as a catalyst for change, that’s great. But it’s important for everyone to know that you can make changes to improve yourself any time you want,” Trunzo says. “New Year’s isn’t magical. If you want or need something to be different in your life, the sooner you act the better.”