Tackling goals—whether at work, at home, or in fitness—can be challenging. But if you take care of the mind, it can help you take care of everything else.
If I don’t keep my resolution, I’m going to punish my mom by making her gain weight.
Generally, I’m pretty good at keeping my New Year’s resolutions. I consider them a commitment to myself and others. But sometimes even the best commitment intentions can fail when the motivation just isn’t there. This is partly why year after year, only about 10 percent of people actually keep their resolutions.
So what good would punishing my mother do? She wants to lose 15 pounds as do I. For both of us, the biggest driver in life is helping others. By that logic, we won’t fail at weight loss if the result of our failure hurts another person. So I got my mom to commit to eating one cupcake every time I go over my daily calorie limit, and I have to eat a cupcake if she goes over hers.
According to Dr. James Maddux, Senior Scholar at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University, our plan is grounded in a real psychological concept. (Who knew?) Goals are kept because there are planned consequences or rewards that help someone stay on track.
The trick to accomplishing a goal is to make sure the consequence is arranged beforehand, instead of being a natural consequence. For instance, if eating a yummy cupcake wasn’t a consequence of the other person’s failure, it would just be a yummy cupcake—almost like a reward for bad behavior. You may then end up with the natural consequence of no longer fitting into your clothes or you may not feel well because you’re not eating healthy. But when you ate the cupcake thinking about the calories, you want to burn it off later because you’re actively thinking about the consequence.
The motivator also has to be individualized; just like not everyone loves butternut squash, not everyone is motivated by helping their mom lose weight. A different motivator can be a consequence of not getting a new dress for a party or a reward of getting new clothes after losing 25 pounds.
In my and my mom’s case, the motivator is that we want to help the other person. While the consequence is negative, supporting each other is positive. Plus, we both have the same goal to achieve.
If money is your motivator, you might give a friend or family member $500 to hold onto and then you get $20 back for every pound you lose, suggests Maddux. You could also give your mom $5 every time you eat a cookie or cheat on your diet as a punishment, he says.
Maddux says the biggest mistake you can make is not giving yourself small rewards along the way. It’s very common to lose sight of your goal and fail because the big reward for sticking to the goal won’t be fulfilled for months, he says. For instance, if the goal is to have a new wardrobe after losing 25 pounds, buy a pair of shoes or an accessory that doesn’t require trying on clothes after every five pounds lost. This will make the journey toward your goal feel more worth it.
According to Maddux, the best news is that everyone has willpower. Some people think you either have it or you don’t, but you aren’t doomed to failure if you don’t have it now, he says. Self-regulation is a teachable, learnable skill acquired through practice and trying different techniques, says Maddux. You may have to avoid the stimulus (the items that promote bad behavior) until you learn self-regulation.
Whether you fulfill your resolutions through consequences, rewards, or a combination of both, make a real commitment. You may find you can accomplish goals you never knew you were capable of reaching.