January 1st has come and gone, which means many of us have undoubtedly made a few resolutions and set some goals for ourselves, from getting fit and eating healthier to volunteering or learning a new skill.
But despite the fact that so many of us make them, new year's resolutions are surprisingly hard to keep. Research shows that only about 8% of people who make resolutions at the beginning of the year are successful in achieving them, and one survey of UK adults found that most resolutions (66%) are broken within just one month.
Still, people who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than those who don't, so what can you do to make sure you actually progress towards your personal and professional goals this year?
Here are a few tips for avoiding the common pitfalls that prevent us from succeeding.
1. Make sure your goals are realistic and specific
Some of the most common reasons resolutions fail is that they're either overly ambitious or too vague, so it's important to be both realistic and specific when setting goals.
For instance, if your goal is to lose weight this year, a more specific yet realistic goal might be to start exercising for at least half an hour each day and begin preparing your meals from scratch rather than relying on processed and pre-packaged foods.
This would be more realistic than simply deciding you want to drop three dress sizes by the summer, because you'll know exactly what steps you should be taking each day.
2. Put them in writing
Writing down your goals can increase your motivation to achieve them, and one study by professor Gail Matthews at Dominican University found that participants who wrote down their goals and shared these commitments with a friend were able to accomplish significantly more than those who hadn't written anything down at all.
So if you have specific goals you'd like to work towards in the coming year, you can increase your chances of success by writing them down, outlining exactly how you intend to achieve them and then sharing these commitments with a trusted friend or mentor.
3. Stop being a perfectionist
When you're working towards a goal, striving for perfection can actually hinder your progress and may increase your likelihood of throwing in the towel the minute you miss one of your targets or slip up in some way.
A study carried out by researchers from the University of Toronto demonstrated the negative side of perfectionism by showing that when dieters were made to think they had already gone over their calorie limit, they ate twice as much as they otherwise would have. Rather than resolving to try again the next day, the dieters decided that since they had already slipped up, they may as well give up altogether.
This highlights the importance of striving for consistency rather than perfection. Instead of worrying about every inevitable misstep, try to focus on your long-term goal, whether it's to lose weight, learn a new language or get promoted at work.
4. Find effective ways to track your progress
Without tracking your progress, you'll have no way of knowing whether you're on your way to reaching your long-term goal, which means you'll soon lose the motivation to try.
Research published by the American Psychological Association shows that when you're working towards a goal, monitoring your progress more frequently increases your chances of succeeding. And if you report your progress publicly or physically record it, your chances of success are even greater.
So if you're trying to lose weight, weigh and measure yourself once a week. If you're learning a new language, check in with a friend every few days and share some of the phrases you've learned. If you're trying to spend more time with your family, keep a journal of all the fun things you were able to do together and the changes you've seen as a result.
5. Don't try to change too much at once
Another big reason we often fail to reach the goals we set for ourselves is that we try to change too many things at once and end up feeling overwhelmed. This is especially true when it comes to goals that require major lifestyle changes, such as getting healthy.
If you're trying to get fit, save money, start volunteering and learn a new language, it will likely be difficult for you to give each goal the attention it deserves and you may end up not making meaningful progress towards any of them.
Instead, decide which goal means the most to you and tackle that one first. Once you're well on your way to accomplishing the first goal or have at least made it a part of your daily routine, you can consider adding the next one to your to-do list.
Marianne Stenger is a writer and journalist with Open Colleges.