how to make lasting change in your life

Photo by  Morgan Sessions  on  Unsplash

It’s the start of a new year — again. What lasting changes do you want to make in your life? Who do you hope to be at the end of the year? What do you want to achieve?

These are questions I ask myself every year. Basically, how do I want to be different at the end of 2018?

In the past, I approached it the same way each year: a New Year’s resolution. Then, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t stick to my resolutions — and stopped making them altogether.

Turns out, I’m not alone. A mere 9% of people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions. That’s it.

This year, I wanted to know how to set New Year’s resolutions that I would be able to achieve. So, instead of researching how to achieve New Year’s resolutions, I decided to try to understand how to set impactful, achievable goals —to make lasting change this year.

Here are three ways to make lasting change in 2018. Ways to Make Lasting Change in 2018

1. Start with the why.

Why do you want to change this year? In his wildly popular TED talk, Simon Sinek asserts that this is the most impactful thing you can do: start with why. He talks about it from a business perspective — but the concept is equally important in life.

So, what does it mean to start with why? Often, people start with what they want to change — for example, their weight. Then, they set a goal address how they are goes something like “Lose 10 pounds this year.” Then they might progress to define how they are going to achieve the goal, like eliminate carbs or sugar.

But, why do you want to lose weight in the first place?

Is it because you want more energy to play with your kids? Or to be in better shape to hike Mount Kilimanjaro this year? Or because you want to look like models in magazines — or all of the Instagram influencers you follow?

What I’ve found is that goals must be meaningful for me to want to achieve them — like in the first two examples above. Wanting to look like a photoshopped model usually isn’t enough to motivate true, lasting change.

I’ve tried to cut out sugar in the past — unsuccessfully. People said sugar was bad for me — my dentist, my doctor and this really entertaining Australian documentary. They’re all right. Sugar does erode your teeth and negatively impact the way you feel. But facts just weren’t enough to motivate me.

Lasting change must be motivated by something bigger. Something that really means something to me. I’ve eaten less sugar this past year — because I want to feel better to be more present when I spend time with my son, not because of my teeth (sorry, dentist).

And this, my friends, is the why.

So, before you even identify what you want to change, ask yourself the most important question: why do you want to change?

2. Set vague goals.

As discussed above, 91% of people fail to achieve their resolutions each year. Yet, the guidance given in articles on how to make New Year’s resolutions is the same — year after year: Set specific goals. Make them SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

Like this article in 2016. And this article in 2017. (Spoiler alert: these approaches are probably not best — if you hope to stick to your resolutions).

There is a better way — a much better one. A recent study out of Stanford University suggests that success is more likely when you try something radically different: Set vague goals.

From his research, Professor Baba Shiv concludes that people are more likely to achieve a goal that is outlined in vague terms rather than if it’s rigid or meticulously planned.

Shiv says, “Want to lose weight in 2011? You’ve got a better chance of pulling it off if you tell yourself, “I’d like to slim down and maybe lose somewhere between 5 and 15 pounds this year” instead of, “I’d like to lose 12 pounds by July 4.”

Why would setting vague goals be more effective? This approach allows for the occasional failure on the path to success— something which is bound to happen. Which leads to the next point.

3. Anticipate failure — and keep going.

Google, “Weight Loss Graph,” pretty much all of them look like this.

Here’s what’s this graph illustrates: weight loss is not linear. Some weeks, people lose five pounds — the next, they gain back two pounds. Maybe it rained that week, and they couldn’t work out as much. But one week of regression doesn’t mean they didn’t achieve their goal. Over a longer period of time, most still lost a substantial amount of weight.

This graph illustrates a critical point for all resolutions: you will likely encounter some setbacks. Like most things in life, you probably won’t have a linear path to success. And that’s completely normal.

This is why vague goals are more realistic and motivating— because when that regression happens, you can acknowledge it, and keep going. A setback doesn’t mean that the goal must be abandoned — even if the regression lasts a week, or even a month. In the end, it’s just one short period of time. And that the next week, or month, could be very different.

I used weight loss as an example because it’s easy to illustrate. But, what do you really want to change this year? What would have the biggest impact on making your life more meaningful, impactful and fulfilling?

Do you want to be less of a perfectionist? Do you want to be healthier? Do you want to build deeper relationships with your family? Do you want to spend more quality time with friends? Do you want to give back more in your community?

Here’s to 2018. May it bring you health, happiness — and lasting change.

What's your resolution this year?  Tell me about it in the comments below.

Heather Hund