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1. Make modest resolutions.
"Look to make little changes that will have the most impact," recommends Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle and an associate professor in the department of psychology at Ottawa's Carleton University. "Keep your resolutions modest, but look for some keystone habit changes," he says. Most people are really good at coming up with excuses not to do the thing they've set out to do. His personal mantra is "just get started". If your goal is to run a 5K, literally take a few steps in the right direction and try a short run and walk combo. "Once I walk up a few steps, I realize I'm fulfilling my intention, that fuels my well-being and positive view of self, and off I go," he says. You can apply Pychyl's mantra to pretty much any health resolution from quitting smoking to heading to bed early at night. Just get started.
2. Combine your goals.
Long-term goals need to be made up of little short-term goals, says Pychyl. Most importantly short-term goals need to be linked concretely to actions. A goal isn't the same as an action. "Ask yourself, what action is it I need to do right now?" says Pychyl. If you make your goal too long-term then you'll always think that it's something to work towards in the future, whereas you need to work on it today. For example, if you're trying to save money, start small but make it actionable. Long-term savings are successful when the short-term action is to keep our money in our pocket or not pull out the credit card. "We perceive concrete things as belonging to today with a sense of urgency attached to them. So, ask yourself, what am I actually going to do right now?" says Pychyl.
3. Avoid common goal setting pitfalls.
Many people lose sight of their goals because they simply forget what they had promised to do. Pychyl suggests getting some sticky notes and posting your intentions in key places in the house, like your fridge door or the bathroom mirror and you could even try a screensaver or a calendar reminder. Another reason people fail on their resolutions is that their goals can be too ambitious. Going from sitting on the couch to promising to run every single day is setting yourself up to fail. Once you miss a day then you are more likely to give up because you've already missed your goal. Try scheduling specific times during the week to run or join a weekly running group to keep you accountable and on track.
4. Do it even if you don't feel like it.
The biggest reason why people don't reach their goals is because they naively believe that they are eventually going to feel like it – or that they have to feel like it to get started, says Pychyl. You need to set the expectation that you're probably not going to feel like doing whatever it is that you've set up to do. Prepare yourself for negative feelings and then get started on the action.