Why is it so hard keep your New Year’s resolutions, and can this be solved through design?

Hint: It all starts with writing effective goals.

I love it when January 1 rolls in. Not because it’s a holiday (although that is nice). I love it because it’s a fresh start. I get to reflect on all the negative or bad things I’ve done the year before, and look for ways to improve. And I ‘m not alone. According to a study by GOBankingRates, the top 5 resolutions for 2016 are:

  1. Enjoy life to the fullest
  2. Live a healthier lifestyle
  3. Lose weight
  4. Spend more time with family and friends
  5. Save more, spend less

There are all great goals to have. Losing weight is always in my top 5 every year. But the challenge it seems is seeing these goals come to fruition. Another study found that 25% will have broken their resolution in the first week, and only 8% are successful in achieving their resolutions. It’s unclear the main reasons why so many people are unsuccessful. For me, it’s about constantly reminding myself of my resolutions. And as the months go by, I would always forget about it. When I think about it again, I don’t feel motivated anymore, because so much time has passed and all the catch-up I had to make just wasn’t worth the effort anymore.

What I do now, instead, is I convert my resolutions into goals. The idea of resolutions just seems so cliché that many people don’t take it very seriously. But goals is something that we use in important settings such as in business, schools, and athletics. But having goals is not enough. We need to carefully learn to write them effectively. A good method is writing SMART goals, which was coined by George Doran.

SMART goals

Smart goals is an acronym for:

  • Specific — Is this goals clear and unambiguous?
  • Measurable — how will I know when the goal is accomplished?
  • Achievable — Is this goal realistic and attainable?
  • Relevant — is this something you really want to do? Are you motivated?
  • Time-bound — when will this goal be complete?

Now, let’s use this in practice. Let’s take our top 5 resolutions for 2016 and re-write it to be more effective.

1. Enjoy life to the fullest
NEW1: Travel to a new city once every 3 months.
NEW2: Take one new picture a day.
2. Live a healthier lifestyle
NEW: Exercise 3 days a week for at least 30 minutes.
3. Lose weight
NEW: Lose 1 pound a month.
4. Spend more time with family and friends
NEW1: Watch a family movie every Friday night.
5. Save more, spend less
NEW: Transfer $200/week into my savings account

These new goals is specific in that you know exactly what you need to do to accomplish the goals. And you’re able to measure it as you progress throughout the year.

Designing a better experience

As a designer, I’m always trying create better experiences. It’s surprising that less than 10% actually follow through with their New Year’s resolutions. Can this percentage be increased through better design? This is a fascinating topic, and one that I will want do more research on.

I am planning on creating a toolkit for writing effective goals and keeping track of those goals throughout the year. The first toolkit that I’ve started on is a poster. Below is an example poster of my goals for 2016.

Yes, these are my actual goals for 2016.

I place this poster in my living room right next to my TV. It acts as a reminder and forces me to remember what I started at the beginning of the year. I divided my poster in to three main categories (career, health, and family), and wrote my goals with ‘SMART’ in mind.

Since all of my goals can be measured, I have open areas that I can check off or write in once parts of that goal has been achieved. This forces me to be invested, because since all of my goals are out in the open, I feel obligated to update my progress.

The poster is a start in the right direction. It’s quick and easy to put together, and if you have a large family, they can help motivate you by keeping you in check. But I think more improvements in the complete experience is needed. For example, is it possible to track these goals for me automatically? Can I get reminded of my goals even when I’m on a business trip? Would going all digital be the best solution? I am still working through several ideas and want to start testing them out in the coming months. Would love any feedback or suggestions.

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