New Year’s Eve is around the corner! Are you excited for the new year? Was 2016 everything you hoped for, or are there some things you didn’t get around to achieve this year?

If 2016 left some goals open for you, there is no need to worry…2017 brings with it 365 days to accomplish all these goals and more…if you take the right actions. The first action you should drop however is to set a “New Year’s Resolution”.

In today’s post I will discuss why you should STOP setting New Year’s Resolutions and should get around to setting real goals instead

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In a study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers from the University of Scranton report of a longitudinal study showing that only 8% (!) of people are successful in achieving their New Year’s Resolutions.

Think for a second…that means that 92 – NINETY-TWO PERCENT of people do NOT achieve what they set out to do. 92% of adult people that make a decision fail to deliver on a promise made to themselves – and often to spouses, family, colleagues,…

Now I don’t know about you, but to me this is, quite frankly, A SHOCKING finding.

Imagine if you didn’t keep 92% of the promises that you make to your clients…

or didn’t stick to 92% of the orders you promised your boss to complete…

or failed to deliver on 92% of the things you promised your partner you would do…



Putting the shock aside, luckily science has discovered proven ways that can help you and I to achieve our New Year’s Resolutions.

Hundreds of researchers and thousands of research hours in the field of “goal-setting theory” have gone into uncovering what separates successful goal-achievers from those who fail to deliver on their goals.

[stextbox=”info” caption=”The Famous SMART-Formula”](BTW: I know you’ve probably all heard about the SMART-Formula for setting goals.
S – Specific,
M – Measurable,
A – Achievable,
R – Realistic,
T – Timing.
While this formula is valuable, science-backed findings trump the power of abbreviations any time…)[/stextbox]

Here is what researchers have found:


1. Goals should be challenging but not over-the-top.

This is the R – the “realistic” – in the classical smart formula. In academic literature, the corresponding term is “goal difficulty”. As Latham/Locke write in their frequently-cited meta-review from 1993:

“Approximately 400 studies have examined the relationship of goal attributes to task performance. It has been found consistently that performance is a linear function of goal difficulty. Given adequate ability and commitment to the goal, the harder the goal the higher the performance.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes in his famous best-selling book “Flow – The Psychology Of Optimal Experience” that what he found in the study of high-performing individuals is that adequate challenge is a precondition for getting into flow.

Given adequate challenge it seems will make people perform at their best. There are two limitations to this of course.
– People lack the commitment to make it happen.
– The goal is too difficult. People reach their personal limits and give up in desparation or exhaustion.

How To Apply It:

So for example, your goal might be:

“I want to lose 15 pounds until the end of February and feel better as a result.”

15 pounds in 2 months is quite a stretch for many, but given the right nutrition and sports a goal that is certainly within reach. It is therefore challenging enough without stressing one out.


2. Defining a goal in present tense and actively – as if it was already achieved – dramatically increases your likelihood of achieving it.

Believe it or not, but a huge part of achieving your goals is how you phrase them.

While most people pay little attention to their choice of words, psychologists have long proven that the words we use have a dramatic influence on how a message feels to us.

To increase your likelihood of achieving your New Year’s Resolution (your goal), make use of the ideomotoric principle.

Researchers have shown that our brain literally cannot tell the difference between things experienced and things vividly imagined.

For instance, if I told you to close your eyes and imagine you were holding an orange in your hand and now bring it closer and closer to your mouth…you would probably notice that your saliva was increasing, as your brain starts preparing yourself to eat that delicious orange…

How To Apply It:

When you define goals in the present tense (and actively), such as e.g.
“I lose 15 pounds to weigh 150 pounds by February 28th, 2017.”
you tell your brain that this is already the case.

Interestingly enough, this will not lead to you fooling yourself, but to you following through on it. Defining things as if they were already accomplished is so powerful, because you build a new, more empowering reality in your own head.

After all, if it has already been achieved, it must be easy to do, right?


3. Use the “Endowment Effect” to really OWN your goals.

The idea is simple: when we feel that we own something, we are much more committed to it. It becomes a part of who we are – relevance increases dramatically. The endowment effect happens if we really “take ownership” of something – in this case a goal, an idea, an intention.

This effect was proven in a study by researchers at Cornell University. In an experiment, one group of students was first handed coffee mugs and were then asked by researchers if they wanted to trade the mugs for a cup of coffee.

Most students refused to trade. Researchers then reversed the order for another group of students. The second group was first handed chocolate and then asked to trade for coffee mugs – once again, most of the students were not willing to trade.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”OWN YOUR GOAL!”]OWN YOUR GOAL! Once you make it TRULY YOURS, you will no longer want to give it up.[/stextbox]

Researchers explained the results with the endowment effect. As the students had already received one item before, they felt endowed to what they had received, they felt ownership.

As they now owned the item, they refused to give it up. After all, it wasn’t just a coffee mug (or chocolate), it was THEIR OWN coffee mug (or chocolate).

How To Apply It:

In order to apply this learning, you need to really own your goal.

Put It Up In Your Work or Bed Room: This is another simple trick that works wonders. If you put it up somewhere, you not only increase commitment, but every time you look at it, it becomes more and more a part of you. You literally endow yourself with it.
Speak It Out Loud Multiple Times: Something happens when we speak something written out loud. First of all, you will be able to notice if the goal is authentic for you or not. If it isn’t, don’t hesitate to rewrite it until it suits. Second, repeat it multiple times until you feel that the goal is really yours!


4. Define not only goals, but the activities required to accomplish those goals (outcome + process goals).

Zimmerman/Kitsantas (2008) have found that neither outcome nor process goals, but the combination of the two brings the highest likelihood of achieving outcomes.

To study this, they took 50 high school girls and the entertaining task of dart throwing and split the girls up into 3 groups. Group #1 was instructed to simply score as many points as possible (outcome trial). Group #2 was given instructions on how to optimize the process (the technique) of throwing the dart. For Group #3 the researchers did it differently: this group first started throwing darts, and once they had mastered the skill of throwing, they were instructed to now focus on the outcome.

How To Apply It:

Don’t just define what goals (outcomes) you want to achieve, but also define with it the required activities or processes that you will engage in, in order to accomplish these goals. And of course, sticking to rule two, you define all of them in the present tense.

Goal Outcome: I lose 15 pounds to weigh 150 pounds by February 28th 2017.
Process Outcome: “I work out 5 times a week for 40 minutes in my favorite gym StarWellness in the 1st district.”


5. Make A Contract with Yourself & A Trusted Friend

In a study by Royer et al. (2015) published in the American Economic Journal, it was researched whether self-funded deposit commitment contracts would increase attendance of employees in the company’s own gym.

A self-funded deposit commitment contract is a contract between employer and employee, in which an employee commits to certain goals, in this case health goals. If the health goals are not met by the end of the year, the deposit is lost for the employee.

Copyright by cartoonsy
In this randomized experiment, Royer et al. (2015) examined 1.000 employees in Fortune 500 Companies in the U.S.

In the case of this experiment, if the employee failed to meet the set goals, the deposited money would go a charity.

What they find is that financial commitment alone had only little impact in following through on goals agreed. But by connecting the goals with a contract, the likelihood to stick to them increased dramatically.

They write (p. 51):

“A four week incentive program targeting use of the company gym generated only small lasting effects on behavior. Those that also offered a commitment contract at the end of the program, however, showed demand for commitment and significant long-run changes, detectable even several years after the incentive ended.”

All in all, the employees subjected to the self-funded deposit commitment contracts showed a 50% higher likelihood of attending the gym during the four-week-experiment, and even one year after the end of the experiment, 20-25% of them where still attending the gym regularly.

Considering the study mentioned in the very beginning of this article, which showed that 92% of people fail to stick to their goals, an increase in 25% of people that stick to goals for an entire year, is a dramatic improvement, wouldn’t you agree?

How To Apply It:

Make self-funded deposit commitment contracts with your friends. Whether it be losing weight, studying for that exam, finishing that book manuscript or something else…find a reliable friend – who won’t let you off the hook easily – and agree with him, that if you fail to stick to the plan – goal and activities to achieve them – your friend can decide on whom to spend that money.

And by the way:
Put all of this INTO WRITING. Write down
– the goal to be achieved
– the activities to be performed
– the time-frame to be considered (at least an entire year if you want to build a new habit into your life)

So there you have it…5 powerful, science-backed ways on how to make New Year’s Resolutions stick. By the way, speaking of Resolutions, I would actually recommend you to call them decisions!

The term “resolutions” already has this connotation of “I am not going to achieve it anyway.”

I wish you good luck in setting your goals and achieving them.

Feel free to let me know how it went! 🙂

– Chrisi

[stextbox=”info” caption=”SOURCES”]

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New Yprk: Harper Collins.
Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (1991). Self-regulation through goal setting. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 50(2), 212-247.
Norcross, J. C., Ratzin, A. C., & Payne, D. (1989). Ringing in the New Year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14(2), 205-212.
Royer, H., Stehr, M., & Sydnor, J. (2015). Incentives, commitments, and habit formation in exercise: evidence from a field experiment with workers at a Fortune-500 company. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 7(3), 51-84.
Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1996). Self-regulated learning of a motoric skill: The role of goal setting and self-monitoring. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 8(1), 60-75.