By about mid-December, I usually find myself getting increasingly distraught about resolutions. I am generally a goal-oriented person, but deciding on a thing that I’m going to stick to for a whole year filled me with a tiny bit of dread. Partly, it’s because I’ve been the same person at the core for some 29 years (I’m way older than that; I just I stopped counting around then). But also, because I always start the year with the most optimistic of intentions, and somewhere along the way (usually January 5) I lose steam.
Why does this happen?
According to my exhaustive online research, I am not alone in this phenomenon. According to Psychology Today, less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions actually get achieved. This has to do with the science behind forming new habits or (even more difficult) breaking existing ones. When we make resolutions, we are essentially trying to make a more desirable behavior automatic.
The good news is, science can help. There are a few things that make a resolution stick better:
- Keep them small and incremental: turns out that my usual “Improve all of my fundamental flaws” may have been a bit too big. Instead, I should have been isolating my resolution to one particular behavior that could be changed with little steps along the way. A good friend of mine always talks about making a “one degree shift” rather than a 180 degree overhaul. and I love that. Slow and steady wins the race!
- Decide on an action that links to a current habit: If you want to drink more water, think about the best times in your day to drink water. Just writing “drink more water” on a sticky note note and putting it on your monitor probably isn’t going to work. But if you decide “Every day before I turn on my computer, I’m going to drink a full glass of water,” you’ve now attached action to something you already do habitually.
- Talk about it: the more people know what your resolution is, and more importantly, why you chose it, the better. That’s because the more people you tell, the wider your support network grows. Also, if you are in my family, the more shaming you get when you don’t stick to it. (I do not recommend this particular strategy.) Especially when you stumble a little on the path, recalling your reason for wanting to have this goal in the first place can be a welcome reminder to keep going.
Teaching kids how to set attainable goals is a valuable skill for practicing perseverance. So if you are making resolutions with your child this year, or setting goals at any time, here are some kid-friendly tips:
- Let them take the lead: This is a prime opportunity to learn a lot from your child about their struggles, challenges, and interests. Ask your child, “How do you want to grow this year?” or “What’s something that you would like to be better?” Brainstorm all kinds of ideas and, again, start small and make them incremental. Choose one or two to work on for a few months.
- Frame it positively: As adults, we make a lot of resolutions that involve stopping behavior. Lose weight. Quit coffee. Stop binge-watching Mr. Robot until 3 a.m. on a work night. Stop missing Bagel Thursdays because I binge-watched Mr. Robot. Present your child with examples of positive resolutions: eat healthier, drink more water, spend more time with my kid (and not Mr. Robot), It also helps to add a reason why your life will be better because of your resolution.
- Keep it specific, and realistic: Even better than eating healthier or getting more exercise, help your child set a goal that can be tracked. I’m going to drink milk with every meal. I’m going to walk to the dog with Dad twice a week. I’m going to read three mornings a week instead of watching YouTube.
- Be flexible: Model flexibility and positivity with your child’s goals as the year progresses. Praise when they achieve their goals, but also to allow for changes and tweaks if they have set something less attainable: If walking the dog twice a week doesn’t work out because of scheduling or weather, that can be a big downer. Work with your child to evaluate goals and revise them along the way.
And parents, among all those other New Year’s resolutions you make in the coming weeks (drink more water, go to bed earlier, ease up on the chili cheese fries, meet and marry Ryan Reynolds…oh, whoops, that’s probably just me) please make one that involves giving yourself a break and congratulating yourself for doing a great job caring about (and for) your kids. You certainly deserve it!
And if you happen to be one of those people who make resolutions and sticks to them, go reward yourself with a big slice of chocolate cake. Unless, of course, you’ve resolved to eat healthier this year. Then, by all means, have that second serving of kale!
By Jasmine Gibson, an educational consultant with expertise in early elementary education, supporting teachers, and designing curriculum.