Have you made a New Year’s resolution this year? It feels good doesn’t it? You probably feel full of hope and determination. Unfortunately, that’s going to change. And there’s nothing you can do about it…
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A Resolution In Two Acts
Think back to the last time you achieved a goal. Were you as positive and hope-filled towards the end as you were at the start? For most of us those positive feelings that help keep us on track tend to dissipate after the midway point.
These feelings of hope, aspiration and excitement that we get at the start of a goal are what is called Promotion Motivation. We imagine ourselves after losing weight, we get excited about getting fit, we bask in the glow of a promised achievement. When we use Promotion Motivation we focus on the positive changes we need to make. To lose weight we should eat more healthily. To get fit we should go to the gym. We focus on the positive things we need to do.
But, as we get closer to the end of a goal things tend to get tougher. We tend to focus more on the things that we have to stop doing. Like we should cut out junk food. Or we should stop driving short distances. By the time we achieve our goal it can feel more like a relief than the joy we expected to feel! This type of motivation is called Prevention Motivation.
Researchers at the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba devised five experiments to test whether we do actually switch from Promotion to Prevention Motivation. And at what point. The results of their paper show that the cross-over point comes roughly halfway through the goal.
So it seems that all goals go from excitement to gritty determination.
But, can we use that knowledge to help us? I don’t know about you but I excel at the first part of goal setting, but not so much at the second part. It seems like I’m not alone. A recent survey of UK adults revealed that 63% of them failed to keep their New Year’s Resolution and two-thirds of those gave up within a month!
One simple trick is to shrink the process. Break big abstract goals into several achievable and measurable sub-goals. Instead of making a vague resolution to lose weight, make several goals that you can measure. Eat a salad three times a week or do twenty minutes of exercise each day. Try to treat these as goals in themselves. While it’s hard to run a marathon from scratch, it’s relatively easy to go to 10,000 steps in a day. Feel the positive emotions of promotion motivation for each mini-goal and pay attention to the gritty details when prevention motivation kicks in. With smaller goals the finish line is that much closer. You’re less likely to give up in frustration when the rose-tinted dream fades a little.
You can also use promotion and prevention motivation to your advantage. At the start of your resolution make a list of the positive things or feelings you will get by sticking to your goal. Reward yourself when you make progress but make sure that the reward is not a “cheat” on your resolution. Gorging on chocolate because you ate an extra carrot is counter-productive. Instead, pick a reward that’s totally unrelated to your goal.
In the later stages of your resolution you should focus on your responsibilities. Note how sticking to your goal will help you in your everyday life. And make a list of all the things you need to avoid to stay on track. Think about the things that you need to stop doing, or list the bad foods you need to give up. Write down the negative things that your resolution will save you from. Reward yourself again for sticking to the task (or completing a mini-goal) but this time the reward could be allowing yourself to skip doing something that you find unpleasant. Again this should be unrelated to your goal, but put off doing something that you don’t like doing for a day. After all, you’ve earned it.
Goals Goals Goals
Of course these techniques are not restricted to New Year’s resolutions. They will work for any type of goal. So why not give it a try? There’s no better time than now.
Why You Lose Hope Half-Way Through Your Resolution
Have you ever felt full of enthusiasm at the start of a goal only to give up when hings get tough? It's not just you, it's how we tackling goals. Learn the difference between Promotion and Prevention Motivation. And how to hack them to keep your New Year's Resolution on track!