By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) – January is nearly over, which probably means your New Year’s resolutions are forgotten – or will soon be.
A 2018 study of 108 million American activities by fitness app Strava found that Jan. 17 was the most likely day for resolutions to be tossed out the window.
This puzzles one of the world’s foremost authorities on the matter: Katy Milkman, an economist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and author of the book “How To Change.”
Why do people start out the New Year with such vim and vigor, but falter so quickly?
“The ‘Fresh Start Effect’ is best exemplified by the New Year phenomenon, when everyone is extra-motivated to pursue their goals,” Milkman said. “But, by February, it’s not as socially acceptable to talk about resolutions or to wake up thinking about them.”
Money is a favorite goal. When YouGov recently asked people about their resolutions for 2024, ‘saving more money’ was the top response at 23% – more than being happy, exercising or anything else.
“Actual change requires more than just motivation, which is why so many resolutions fail,” Milkman said.
Here are a few tips to keep your resolutions alive and generate lasting change.
USE MULTIPLE ‘FRESH STARTS’
Even if you stumble on your resolutions, which is likely, do not wait until next year to try again, Milkman said.
Fresh starts can happen in a new month, a holiday, birthday or any day of the week.
“It’s a misconception that if you’ve missed the boat, then you’re done,” she said. “There are many other boats.”
A big goal is just the exciting first step, followed by the small, routine paces to get you there.
Milkman set a specific fitness goal for 2024: exercising on the elliptical machine four days a week.
“Don’t just set a goal and think that’s enough,” she advised. “Make boring, concrete plans around how. Get into the weeds, the smaller details the better, because it will increase the likelihood that you will actually follow through.”
USE COMMITMENT DEVICES
Milkman recommends using “commitment devices” as incentives. For example, if you have a savings target, refrain from accessing that account until you have reached a certain level.
Penalties for tripping up could include letting your partner change your account password, or forcing yourself to give a financial contribution to a cause you hate.
You probably know yourself enough to foresee the obstacles.
Will you forget to put money into a Roth IRA? Set a reminder in your calendar. Do you dread exercise? Make it easier by binge-watching your favorite shows while on the treadmill.
“That’s called ‘Temptation Bundling,'” Milkman said. “Make the goal pursuit process fun and do something you really enjoy at the same time.”
Having to constantly make the right choice will eventually lead to failure because our willpower is only so strong. Instead, make such choices automatic. For instance, set up a recurring 1% payroll deduction for your retirement account instead of deciding every pay period.
Incorporate all of these tips, and 2024 can be a year of fulfilled resolutions.
“The way we think about our lives is not as one big continuum, but as a series of chapters in a book,” Milkman said. “There are chapter breaks, when you can close one chapter and begin the next. Then you can start to say, ‘That was the old me – this is the new me.'”
(Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)