By Patrick Progar, PhD, BCBA-D

It’s that time of year again when many of us make New Year’s resolutions. While we all start out with good intentions, these New Year’s resolutions often are forgotten or broken within days or weeks of the New Year. Here are some helpful guidelines for setting resolutions for the year that you can keep and meet!

  1. BE SPECIFIC when making New year’s resolutions. For example, if the resolution is to reduce watching reality shows, that would be hard to track and could easily be broken. If instead the resolution was that I will reduce watching reality shows by x% over what I did in December that is better.
  2. MEASURABLE GOALS: It is often wise to have short term and long-term measurable goals. Again, in the case of reality show watching, if you currently watch 10 hours per week, a reasonable short-term goal would be to reduce it by 10% in January. A reasonable long-term goal would depend on the individual – maybe some reality shows are rewarding enough that you only want to reduce this behavior by 80% long term. That is fine!
  3. MAKE YOUR GOALS PUBLIC! This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer. Research shows that if we make our goals public, we are much more likely to meet our goals. By making goals public, you are recruiting sources of reinforcement from friends and family and perhaps, they might be there to offer reminders of your goals when you begin to stray.
  4. CONTINGENCY MANAGER: Another option to help you stay on track is using a contingency manager. A contingency manager could be a friend, family or colleague. The contingency manager can monitor whichever behaviors you are trying to change, offer rewards when the goal is met, etc. For example, when I was writing a manuscript to be submitted to a journal, I recruited my co-author to call me at 3 pm on Friday to see if I had met my weekly writing goal. I only missed one deadline as the disappointment in her voice that one time was enough to make me stay late at work that night to finish my piece.

The bottom line is – You can do this. The science of applied behavior analysis has much to offer the world. Learning how to set goals for yourself and meet those goals is just one of the many things we do!

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