There's no single formula that'll guarantee you see a New Year's resolution all the way through. But, considering that just 8 percent of people actually achieve their annual goal, there are a lot of wrong ways to go about it.
Year after year, you probably click on an article or two that offer instructions for actually making it happen this time. Conventional wisdom would have you log your progress, practice your willpower and tell others about your grand plans, in order to hold yourself accountable. Tad Waddington, Ph.D., CEO of Lasting Contribution and author of Return on Learning, suggests we look at our plan of attack for 2015 through an atypical lens if we really want to succeed. Find a few of his surprising tricks below.
Start out extremely small.
Like, miniscule. "A lot of people don't really conceive of the problem the right way," he tells The Huffington Post. Normally, our strategy for accomplishing a goal is to just go for it, he says. This usually leads to failure. Rather than jumping in cannonball style, Waddington says a toe-dipping approach could be one secret to sticking with it this year.
"Activation energy," or the force that gets the ball rolling, is key. If your ambition is to shed some pounds (which is the most popular pledge, year after year), spend the first week in January exercising for one minute. "Your capabilities and your goals have to match," Wadding explains. If you're entirely out of shape, your plan to run a 5K by January 15 is near-destined to hit the skids. Activate your resolution by starting with something you absolutely know you can do. This "solid foundation," as Waddington puts it, will help you follow through with next week's challenge, which should just be a pinch more demanding than the week before. Keep up this pattern -- increase the difficulty, but only by a little -- and you will see results.
Make a "To-Don't" list.
When thinking about the year ahead, you might be quick to think about what you do want. You do want to volunteer. You do want to cut down on your drinking. But at what cost? Consider your "To-Don't" list; this will help you slow down, start small and be more realistic about your goals. Here's a silly way to think about it: Let's say the goal is to lose 10 pounds, and fast. There's a simple solution -- just chop off your leg. It's one guaranteed way to shed the weight. It's probable, however, that you don't want to amputate a leg in 2015. Be sure when setting your goals, you don't compromise crucial elements of your life (like your leg) for the sake of instant gratification.
Don't shout your resolution from the roof tops.
Waddington doesn't suggest making public resolution declarations, whether on Facebook or IRL, because you'll inevitably feel crummy. "It is almost impossible not to slip," he says, and the moment you feel you've let someone else down, you'll fall deeper down a hole of self-criticism. You'll have to spend more time getting out of said hole, rather than getting back on track with your goal.
Know that you can always do something.
"There are times you feel you can do anything, and there are times you feel you can do nothing -- most times you're wrong," Waddington says. Believe it or not, this is good news. At the start of the year, you might feel amped to change. Soon, though, you'll probably hit a road bump and experience intense defeat. Retain Waddington's dogma and you'll be better equipped for resilience. On certain days, you might not be able to stop yourself from going through an entire pack of cigarettes, but if you can delay taking a drag -- even for five seconds -- you have done something differently. You have made a change.
Know your bias.
Or, rather, recognize your very human negativity bias. We are much more likely to remember negative events than positive ones, and this behavior tends to serve as an obstacle. Waddington says we "double count" the negative and "single count" the positive. This pattern grew out of evolutionary necessity: To err on the side of alarmism led our ancestors to run when they thought they'd heard a bear. But when it comes to achieving goals, we need to even out the score. Be mindful of this tendency, so when you screw up, you can recover quickly and keep up with your progress. It's very human to curse the things you did wrong. Remember that, then recall one thing you did right.
Focus on your breath.
This'll quiet the critical self-talk -- another one of those demons engrained in our human nature. Waddington says often it's what we tell ourselves that's most crippling. We can easily fall into a paralyzing "I can't" trap, but remember, you can always do something. "If you're focusing on your breathing, you have less of a chance to criticize yourself in your head," he says. Not only can this mindfulness exercise quiet those internal beasts, but it can also have positive physiological effects, like lowering your blood pressure.
Have skin in the game.
"You have to give a damn," Waddington says. "If you're going to have a goal -- no matter how small -- be invested in it." This requires forming a battle plan: Draw out your tactics, collect your weapons and fight the hard fight. This practice is reminiscent of the saying, "Do it with passion or not at all." Your mission shouldn't be all-consuming; it needn't take up every second of your day. But, you should make sure it's something you care about, and that you're seeking to accomplish it because it is of personal importance, and not for something or someone else.