The new year is a great time to reflect on where we are in life and where we want to be. That’s why so many people set goals for positive change in the shape of New Year’s resolutions.
However, the rosy optimism of the new year only lasts so long, and resolutions can fall by the wayside--in fact, one study found that 23% of people don’t even make it a week!
So why are New Year’s resolutions so hard to keep, and what can we do to make the positive change we’d like to see over the next 365 days?
A successful resolution needs practicality, planning, and flexibility. The first and most important step? Making your resolution!
Step 1: Decide on a Resolution
What do you want to achieve this year? Have you found yourself wishing that some part of your life was different--and can you make the changes you want to see?
In 2019, the most common resolutions were to exercise more, save money, eat healthier or lose weight--all awesome goals that will improve health, wellness and quality of life. However, there’s danger in leaving your resolution too broad.
Keep in mind that the most successful resolutions are realistic and achievable. Consider a few different points as you pick your poison:
Big Change is Made Through Small Habits
Setting a concrete goal gives you a practical, clear action that you can take in your daily life. After deciding what your big-picture aspirations are, scale it down to daily or weekly habits that are easier to keep track of and maintain motivation for.
This goes for achievements-as-resolutions, too. Want to run a marathon or lose 20 pounds? Break those goals down into the small-scale actions that will get you there.
Here are a few examples so you can see what I mean:
- Resolution: Be happier. Habits: Keep a gratitude journal or see friends regularly.
- Resolution: Lose weight. Habits: Stop buying unhealthy snacks at the store.
- Resolution: Run a marathon. Habits: Train by running three times per week.
Automate New Habits
Yes, once you get in the habit of doing something it can start to feel automatic--but that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about the one-time actions that can make positive habits automatic throughout the entire year. Here are a few examples:
Think about whether you can automate any part of your resolution--if you can, you’ve got a head start on sticking with it!
Keep It Simple
The holiday energy can easily carry you away and lead you to bite off more than you can chew.
People who resolve to change too much of their lifestyle overnight unwittingly set themselves up for failure. Change is made gradually, and success with your resolution might mean introducing just one habit at a time until you’ve built the lifestyle you want.
To lose weight, resolve to stop snacking, or to limit your sweets to one per week, or to lift weights three days per week, and don’t get distracted by all of the other habits that would also help you lose weight. Once you’re established in the habits you’ve chosen, you can then reevaluate and consider adding more.
Step 2: Make a Plan
You’ve made your resolution and decided on the habits that will help you achieve it. As you thought about your habits, you probably started thinking about this next step too: the plan.
This step is critical. Set aside time to sit down and think through the questions below. Having a good idea of how the resolution will fit into your life before you even start will allow you to tweak your goals (if necessary) and make it easier to jump in.
Writing down your plan will also give you a handy reference, which can motivate you on off days or help you get back on the horse after a slip.
How will these habits fit into my life?
Think about time, location, money, and any other factor that will go into the execution of your new habits.
If your goal is to lift three days per week, decide which days you will lift and at what time. Will you visit a gym or work out at home? Will you use a trainer? Do you have all the weights you need? What will you wear?
Answering as many of these logistical questions as you can will set you up for success. You’ll find it easier to get started and keep going, and if you need to tweak some detail of your plan it’ll be easy to do because everything else is fleshed out.
Are these realistic changes given my current lifestyle?
If you regularly stay up past midnight, it’ll be hard to make waking up at 5:30 a consistent habit. Likewise, if you currently don’t work out then running 5 miles on your first day might be difficult (and dangerous!).
Remember that small, gradual change is the best way to sustainably achieve goals--and with year-long resolutions, sustainability is key. Think about whether your goals are realistic given your lifestyle, and if you realize that it might be too big of a shift, find ways to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
What obstacles will I have to overcome?
Have an idea of the challenges you’ll face in pursuing your new goals; this will allow you to plan for (or around) these obstacles. When you encounter them, having already made a plan will help you to overcome them and stick to your resolution.
For example, your goal may be eating out less but you know that you’re often too tired in the evenings to cook. Make a plan to meal prep on the weekend, sign up for a meal prep delivery kit, or stock up on healthy frozen meals or canned soups--being prepared can save your resolution at a critical moment!
How can I make my new habits easier?
You are much more likely to do something that is difficult for you if the process to do it is easy.
Laying out your workout clothes in the evening and putting them on right when you wake up will make it more likely that you hit the gym. Resisting the urge to eat unhealthy snacks will be easier if the only snacks in your house are carrots and hummus--and the temptation to buy chips and chocolates will be less if you remember to eat a snack before going to the store.
Think about how you’re going to make your new habits easier for you, and incorporate those behaviors into your plan.
Step 3: Decide When to Start
Yes, we’re talking about New Year’s resolutions, but that doesn’t mean you need to start on January 1.
Definitely wait until you have your plan together and written down. Rushing into your resolution without a plan will leave you vulnerable to vague goals and unreinforced motivation.
It’s your choice whether to wait until your routine is back to normal. The holidays are weird--parents have odd days off of work, kids aren’t in school, activities are paused and family may be in town. Some people find it easier to start new habits in these flexible circumstances; others may find it hard to make and stick to a plan. Whether you wait is determined by you and your goals.
Consider using a trial period to test out your goals before committing to them. This will allow you to iron out any issues and have a few stumbling points without any risk of failure--you can’t slip up if you haven’t started yet! Once you’ve warmed up, it’ll be easier to keep to the resolution.
Step 4: Track Your Progress
Keep a journal of your progress, put gold stars on a calendar, or use any other tracking method that works for you. As you build your habit and work towards your goal, seeing how much you’ve done and how far you’ve come will keep you motivated to continue.
Reward yourself for hitting milestones--any milestone! Don’t save your self-congratulations until you’ve hit your target weight, run your marathon or made it until the end of the year. Frequent, earned reward will also help to keep you on track and motivated.
Deciding how to track progress, when to reward yourself, and what your rewards will be should all be part of your initial planning process before you begin.
Step 5: Check In Monthly
Throughout the year, set aside time at the end of each month to revisit your resolution. How consistent were your habits in the past month? What milestones did you hit, and what did you accomplish? What parts of the resolution are working well, and which aren’t? Maybe you need to scale back, or maybe you’re ready to add a new healthy habit.
Treat each month as a mini-reset where you can alter any part of your habits, tracking or rewards to better suit your goals and lifestyle.
These resets also provide many chances throughout the year to get back on the horse if you’ve fallen off. I encourage you to not sweat missing a day, week, or longer and to get right back into it whenever you feel ready, but there’s a reason that new years and new months are so motivating. (If you’re feeling really spiritual, reset at the new moon!)
Take the opportunity at these check-ins to remind yourself why you chose this resolution, and focus on the positive benefits you’ve experienced. With some focus and planning you can accomplish anything--starting with your 2021 resolution!
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