As we all have read by now, New Year’s Resolutions are rarely successful. I think it’s the fault of that third word – resolutions – that so many of us fail. “Resolving” to do something feels intimidating like if you don’t follow through, you failed to keep a promise. In reality, the idea should be more goal-centric, more doable, and a lot more friendly.
That’s why I prefer the phrase New Year’s Intentions. They encompass things I intend to do, things I know are good for me or good for society or good for the people closest to me. And if I really want my intentions to come to fruition, the best way I can do that, according to just about every psychologist, coach, or business consultant, is to write them down.
This is not just something teachers tell students to get them to pay attention to. This is a proven method to crystallize your goals, to affirm them, and to help yourself remember them so they become a part of your everyday life, rather than a passing thought.
Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, led a study of 270 participants with the focus of goal-setting. Her data show that people are 42 percent more likely to achieve their written goals than the ones just bouncing around in their heads.
“Writing your goals down not only forces you to get clear on what, exactly, it is that you want to accomplish,” she explained, “but doing so plays a part in motivating you to complete the tasks necessary for your success. The process of putting your goals on paper will force you to strategize, to ask questions about your current progress, and to brainstorm your plan of attack.”
How and why does this work? It has to do with the biological process known as encoding, which is the method by which the information we perceive travels to our brain’s hippocampus where it’s analyzed. In the next step, we make decisions about what is important enough to store away in our memory banks and what we can forget. When we write information down, the encoding process automatically improves, greatly increasing our chances of remembering the prioritized items we’ve deemed crucial.
Now, when it comes to goals, the experts say that there is also a way you should write them down to increase your chances of attaining them. Vividly describing your goals – including using the five senses to capture the essence of each goal – is strongly associated with goal success. Forbes reports that people who use this method are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals than people who don’t.
And here’s a new twist: instead of beginning by writing down something you want to accomplish in the new year, write it down as if you’ve already accomplished it. For instance, replace, “I want to exercise 3 times a week” with “I worked out at least three times a week for a year, and I am stronger and have more energy than I did last year.” Just by changing the language a little, you make an aspirational goal a reality, and your brain sees it as doable. In addition, your brain sees the positive effects of you reaching your goal.
Instead of simply writing down the quintessential “I want to lose 10 pounds,” write down the intention to do so with all of the accompanying benefits and feelings that go along with it. Your intention will look something like this: “I lost 10 pounds and now when I get dressed in the morning, my clothes are comfortable and I love what I see in the mirror. I especially love the way I feel, no longer bloated and uncomfortable, but comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time.”
This next step of goal-setting fine-tunes your intentions, helping you to see not only the goal, but the expected results from the goal. You will internalize these plans, remember them, and be much more likely to commit to them. The best part is that the goal with elicit positive feelings rather than those of dread. Your mind will play over the wonderful consequences of your changed behavior and you will automatically desire the end result even more. Your intentions are now bolstered and your goals are sustained.
New Year’s Eve is the perfect time to reflect on the last year and New Year’s Day is equally perfect to set your intentions for the next year. This is your chance to focus on you and on making yourself better in 2022. So write it down and make it happen!