If you’re like the overwhelming majority of people, the resolution you make on January 1 is a distant memory by mid-February. It’s natural to get excited about making changes in a new year, but consistently doing the work isn’t always something to get you pumped up.
“January 1 is an arbitrary date to make choices,” says Jim Kwik, author of Limitless Expanded Edition: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life. “Most people stop after a couple of weeks. Resolutions are often expressed interests and not real commitments. A resolution should be a decision. Decision, like the word ‘incision,’ means to cut off from any other possibility. It’s making a commitment.”
Michelle Rozen, author of the forthcoming book, The 6% Club, has been working with Fortune 100 companies for more than a decade, coaching leaders on issues related to motivation. Over the years, she noticed that people have a desire to change, but when it’s time to execute, many fall short.
“I surveyed 1,000 people at the beginning of the year and all of them said, ‘I’m going to have an amazing year. I’m going to do so much better in business. I’m going to do so much better in life,’” she says. “I surveyed them from January to June, and 94% of those people dropped whatever they pledged they were going to do by February.”
People who are able to stick to their resolutions share some commonalities, say both Kwik and Rozen.
1. THEY CHOOSE ONE THING
Instead of overwhelming themselves with too many goals, successful resolution-setters stick to doing one thing differently, says Rozen.
“It’s easy to get excited and underestimate how challenging it is for your brain to start something new,” she says. “It takes about 30 days to build a new habit. Pick one thing and focus on that for 30 days. After 30 days, it becomes a part of who you are and how you do things.”
2. THEY ARE SPECIFIC
People who stick to their resolutions set goals in a granular and specific way, says Rozen.
“When you say, ‘I’m going to increase my sales,’ or ‘I’ll be more present as a leader,’ it’s too broad,” she says. “The more specific you are in how you set your goals, the more successful you will be.”
For example, instead of being more present with your team, set a goal to walk the sales floor an hour a day. Instead of saying you’ll increase your sales, set a goal to make 10 outreach calls each day before lunch.
3. THEY SET MILESTONES
Another secret of people who stick to New Year’s resolutions is that they take large goals and break them down into manageable milestones.
“Large goals can be very overwhelming, and a confused mind doesn’t do anything,” explains Kwik. “Break things down into smaller manageable tasks and habits. For example, if your goal is to be fit, start with a habit of just 10 minutes of exercise a day.”
Small steps may seem inconsequential. However, Kwik says people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they could do in a year—if they’re consistent.
“Consistency compounds,” he says. “If people just improved one area of their life or business by 1% daily, compounded over 365 days, it would yield a 37 times increase that year.”
4. THEY CREATE A HABIT LOOP
To stick, resolutions need to fit into a habit loop, says Kwik. This includes a cue, a routine, and a reward. For example, the cue could be to put your running shoes near your bed. This will trigger you to follow through with the routine, which might be going for a jog first thing in the morning. Then reward yourself with something, such as having a healthy smoothie after you return.
“When you make a resolution, repeating the new habit will rewire your brain to make this action your default,” says Kwik.
Celebrating the wins is key, and Kwik says this is a step that most people skip. “People are very easy to beat themselves up when they don’t do something,” he says. “Recognizing and celebrating your progress, no matter how small, releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates a sense of pleasure. That reinforces the habit and increases the likelihood that you’re going to follow through in the future.”
5. THEY TAP INTO PURPOSE
To stick to a resolution, you not only need to know what you want to change, but you need a clear understanding of why the results matter. Kwik calls success, “HQ.”
“We do things emotionally,” he says. “Understanding your ‘why’ behind your goals can significantly boost your motivation and your commitment to stick with that goal or resolution.”
6. THEY HAVE THE RIGHT ACCOUNTABILITY
Sharing your resolution with someone who could hold you accountable can help you stick to your goal. However, how you put it out into the world matters, says Kwik. For example, if you post on social media that your resolution is to write a book, you may get a lot of positive feedback and comments, congratulating you on the plan.
“Then people get that dopamine reward right away without having to actually write the book,” says Kwik.
Instead, get social support from a small group of peers or a mentor you respect—people whose opinion matters to you. Accountability from the right person can be a very powerful motivator to keep you consistent and keep you on track.
7. THEY BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES
People who are successful at sticking to their goals tend to have an optimistic outlook on life, which helps them achieve their resolutions year after year, says Rozen.
“Confidence breeds success; it’s a cycle,” she says. “People who are among the 6% that say that they’ll do something and actually follow through are more confident and better able to achieve their next goal.”
Sticking to resolutions gives you a sense of accomplishment and a sense of purpose, both of which will make you happier, says Rozen.
“Knowing how to pick your resolutions and make a plan to crush them can have an accumulating effect on businesses and life that is incredible,” she says. “Whatever obstacles get in the way are not going to discourage you because you have mental clarity. You know where you are going, and you’re clear on how to get there.”