We’re nearing “New Year’s Resolution” time again. That got me thinking about the pass/fail rate of this annual ritual. How many people stick to their resolutions? Let’s be honest, it’s not very many. Since motivation and behavior change are part of instructional design, I thought it would be fun to take a look at where people go wrong and how you can increase your chance of success. This is the Instructional Designer’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions.
Why Resolutions Often Fail
- They get treated as mandatory, like compliance training. Making resolutions is a fad at the end of the year, something to check off the to-do list. So it’s easy to make a pledge that sounds good, but doesn’t have a lot of investment behind it. No motivation = no success.
- There are rarely consequences for breaking resolutions. Unlike with compliance training, where something bad happens if you don’t complete it, you’re not accountable to anyone. This makes it easy to let things slide.
- They’re too broad. “Lose weight” is a good goal, but how are you going to do that? How much do you want to lose, by when? If you don’t have a plan to follow or progress that you can track, the resolution is likely to fall out of sight and therefore out of mind.
- They’re too rigid. “Lose weight by spending three hours in the gym every day” is definitely a specific, measurable goal. It’s also asking a lot. If you can make it happen, power to you. But for a lot of folks it’s important to start small and allow room for flexibility.
- They ignore the big picture. This may sound weird, but if you’re just trying to make one change it could be harder than a major overhaul. That’s because the rest of your habits and routines are still in place. You can still fall back on auto-pilot, which makes it easy to forget that little change.
Tips for Resolution Success
- Make specific goals. The SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) works well for goal setting. There are a few variations to the acronym, but the premise is the same. Once you have your goal you can make a plan for how to reach it.
- Create a plan. This is the “How” to your goal’s “What.” Give yourself steps to follow and be realistic with your schedule. It should be specific enough that you never need to ask yourself “What do I do now?” but flexible enough to let you recover if you get a little off track.
- Motivate yourself. Get yourself excited and stay excited. Want to play “Eye of the Tiger” in the background while you’re cleaning? Want to tape inspirational quotes to your gym bag? Go for it! Whatever you do, make it fun.
- “Bundle” when you can. Roll activities together when you can reasonably do so. Want to exercise more but can’t miss your favorite TV show? Plan on hitting the treadmill during your show and you can watch it while you work out.
- Work on it a little bit at a time. Instead of looking at one big goal, consider breaking your resolution into smaller milestones. Work on it a little bit each day and make it part of your overhauled routine. (Think microlearning as opposed to one big course).
- Track your progress. Use a whiteboard, spreadsheet, app, etc. to make yourself a progress tracker. Then actually keep it updated. This will give you a visual snap shot of how you’re doing and can help you spot patterns, opportunities, and trouble spots.
- Set consequences and rewards. Give yourself things to work toward and things to avoid. They can be simple, like treating yourself to a movie or getting stuck with extra chores. These will help support the motivation side of your resolution.
- Find a buddy. Have a friend or family member hold you accountable for your goal and do the same for them. This will make it a social experience and apply a healthy dose of peer pressure. You can encourage one another and, if desired, inject a healthy dose of competition.
- Overhaul your routine. To me, this is huge. People often talk about things being “routine” as a bad thing. Take the opportunity to transform your “same as usual” into something that fulfills you. Include practical need-to-dos and things you want to do. Re-train your auto-pilot.
Applying instructional design principles to New Year’s resolutions may increase your chance of success. Challenge yourself this year. Make a resolution you actually intend to keep and work toward it.
If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
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