“New Year’s resolutions should be called res-ILLUSIONS”, my friend quipped on January 1st; “people delude themselves that they will actually do them.” Unfortunately, the research shows he is mostly right — on average, only 19% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions after 2 years! So why is long-term change so hard? As a psychologist, the #1 mistake I see people make with resolutions is that they focus more on goal-setting rather than than goal-iteration. While it’s useful to set S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound), the best intentions are usually never followed up with actual behavior change in the long run.
I also know this first hand — I read dozens of great posts, articles, and books on leadership, entrepreneurship, and technology every year. They are written by brilliant people with evidence-based strategies for personal and professional development. However, I can tell you that until I used the system I am about to share, almost none of it actually made a tangible and sustainable effect on my life. So here is the “resolution solution” that transformed futile failure into sustainable success.
Successful Behavior Change Requires Feedback Loops:
Behavior change ultimately boils down to two positive feedback loops: the Goal Progress Loop and the Habit Formation Loop.
In the Goal Progress Loop, you start with an intention: setting a S.M.A.R.T. goal that you want to achieve. For example: I will lift weights, Mon-Fri, from 8–9AM, at the gym next to my work). That is followed by an attempt to take action within the designated timespan: I was successful 4/5 days last week, except Friday. To make it more likely to complete the action, we use the Habit Formation Loop. In order for an action to become a routine habit, it needs a cue to remind you to start the habit (e.g. setting an alarm or passing by the gym on the way to work). Furthermore, routines are only sustained long-term if they provide sufficient rewards (e.g. feeling better about how I look/feel, or the social benefit of seeing my friends at the gym).