New Year is coming and for better or worse; ’tis the season for making resolutions. I’m not a huge fan of the tradition, because important goals should be a part of your daily life no matter what day it is. But, since we don’t have time to be setting new goals every day, New Year’s resolutions it is. But, let’s stick to ones we can keep!
Photo by ahisgett via flickr
Deciding on the goals themselves isn’t the hard part. We all want to be better and most of us don’t have a hard time coming up with a list of where we’d like to see improvements. But the list is often as far as we get, mainly because it takes actual work to improve and it is far easier to avoid the struggle. Luckily, psychologists have spent time figuring out the in’s and out’s of motivations and we can use this research to help us beat our natural tendency to hit the resolution snooze button. Below are some things we know and how you can use them to your advantage:
1. Be reasonable
You can’t cut your budget in half any more than you can cut your weight in half. People with reasonable goals have been shown to actually stick to their goals, rather than just reaching them and then wandering off.
Keep It Simple, Stupid. I mean it. While the behaviors that lead to your goal may be complex, the goal itself needs to be simple. You can’t hit the target if you don’t know what it looks like.
3. Measure up
Psychologists have shown that having something you can easily track is a big plus, so think about ways to measure your goal so you know whether you are making progress. Knowing where you started so you can tell how far you’ve come, and knowing where you are going can tell if you’re on track to make it.
4. Change the playing field
Our environment has an enormous effect on what we do, and sometimes changing the rules of the game can help you meet your goal. If you’re trying to spend less on coffee, for example, change your walking or driving pattern so that you don’t have to deal with the temptation of your favorite java spot. Spending too much on clothes? Stop your subscription to Vogue; advertisers wouldn’t pay for those ads if they didn’t work
5. Loud and proud
Get on Twitter. Post a Facebook note. Send an e-mail to your best friend. Start a blog. However you want to do it, publicly committing to your goal has been shown to make it easier to accomplish, partially because then you feel responsible for what you said you’d do. If you’re not an online person, scream it from the nearest hilltop!
6. Win the war
Individual days usually don’t matter with regard to long-term goals. If you are trying to reduce your spending, losing your nerve and splurging isn’t an excuse to give up. There is a great study where “breaking” someone’s budget at the beginning of the day by getting them to spend money seems to “break” the budget for the rest the day. You figure as long as it is ruined, might as well let it go. Wrong! No! Bad! It isn’t the battle, it is the war that matters; if you have a breakdown, get back into the fight!
7. Go social
Anyone that has ever tried to stick to a goal knows that the biggest problem is motivation. It is hard to do and you need someone giving you feedback, help, and support. There is a lot of converging research that shows that having a social support network can be one of the most useful tools in accomplishing your personal goals. So find a budget buddy, link up, and talk often so that you’re getting the feedback you need to stick to it.
Matt Wallaert is the Lead Scientist at Thrive, a free online personal finance advisor specifically aimed at young people. He develop the behavioral advisory engine, using what he knows about psychology to help people spend less, save more, and live increasingly satisfied lives. You can also find him at his personal site: An n of 1.