Photo by Ikluft (Wikimedia Commons)

The statistics on New Year’s resolutions are quite dismal. Psychologist Richard Wiseman calculated that 88 percent of all resolutions end in failure. A group of scientists who study human behavior change (Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente) has demonstrated that resolutions are typically made for five consecutive years or more before people can make a change “stick.”

If the average person must make numerous attempts at changing before succeeding, it is easy to see how feelings, such as frustration, hopelessness, and discouragement can creep into and undermine your efforts. At times, it may even seem impossible to change at all.

For these reasons, it is crucial to know how to give yourself fuel to keep your change effort moving forward. Consider these five ways to keep your energy level high:

  • Build change efforts into your identity. If I think of myself as a “runner,” I am likely to get up each morning and go for a run, even if I didn’t sleep well, can’t find my favorite pair of running shoes, and storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. In other words, if “runner” is a solid part of my identity, I will not fall prey to the obstacles that could potentially interfere with my efforts. If “runner” is not a solid part of my sense of self, I will be much more vulnerable to these obstacles. Now think about how this works with money goals. If I think of myself as a “saver,” I will avoid splurging on the latest gadget, even if all of my friends own the gadget and advertisers are bombarding me with messages about how much I need this item. If I make “saver” a substantial part of my self-definition, I can avoid the traps that would otherwise lead me to spend too much.
  • Make sure the behaviors that will lead you to your money goal are consistent with your highest values. Sometimes our behaviors do not match with what we value most in life. Think about the area of your personal finances that you are working on. Can you think of times when your behavior in this area has conflicted with or has been inconsistent with your values? For example, perhaps you consider generosity to be one of your core values, but you have not designed your budget in such a way to allow you to make regular donations to your favorite charity. Or perhaps you have decided that security, stability, and peace of mind are core values, but you have not established a solid emergency fund. In these examples, your behavior is inconsistent with your values. What do you need to do to bring your financial behavior into alignment with your values? Write it down and make a plan.
  • Build your self-confidence. If you want to believe you have what it takes to reach a specific goal, create the preliminary steps in which you’re guaranteed to succeed. Do you want to run a marathon? Build your confidence by first running a mile. Have you previously felt too intimidated to learn about investing? Start small by asking a financial educator a few simple questions, going to the library to find an entry-level book on investing, or initiating a conversation with a friend who has some knowledge about investing.
  • Maintain an adequate supply of self-control. Imagine that you carry a bucket of self-control with you everywhere you go. There is always some self-control in the bucket, but the amount varies. On some days, the bucket is quite full, and you easily resist the temptation to do foolish things with your money. On other days, you faced so many challenging situations in which you had to draw from your supply of self-control, there isn’t very much left in the bucket. You used a little self-control when you resisted the temptation to eat a full box of donuts this morning. Then you used some more when you held back your distressing emotions during the staff meeting at work. Later in the day, you had to suppress what you wanted to say to your neighbor when he made you angry. You had to “hold back” or say “no” in all of these situations, and you slowly depleted your supply of self-control. Now, when you put yourself in a shopping situation where you need to work hard to keep your money and your credit cards in your wallet, you may have little self-control left. The solution? Know what drains your bucket of self-control, and be careful that you don’t put yourself in too many draining situations before making important money-related decisions.
  • Manage negative feelings that arise with setbacks. When you lapse in your efforts to work toward a financial goal, like cheating on your diet or spending over-budget, you may feel frustrated and defeated. But when you sense these negative feelings emerging, take action to avoid getting drawn in by them. Try changing your environment, changing your thinking, or talking it over with a trusted friend. See if you can alter your perspective by looking at the “big picture” or long-term view of the situation. Shift your focus away from feelings of failure by making a list of the important lessons you have learned from the setback.

With these few simple ideas, you can use the New Year as a source of renewal and revitalization of your financial goals.

Best wishes for a terrific 2012!