5 Ways to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

Photo: MikeBaird

The American philosopher and psychologist William James said “Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.” Since thinking or deciding is the first step in launching a new behavior, I began wondering what the primary methods of success are as we all run headlong in our New Year’s resolutions and new habits. What does it take to make that new habit stick past January 1? What are the key principles in transforming our lives to make conscious new habits become unconscious routines? Below are five key steps that can give you a running chance at achieving those New Year’s resolutions and making them work all year long:

1. Make Them Realistic and Measurable

I will never weigh 140 pounds again (the 80s are over), but I would love to be 155 pounds. I could realistically achieve this goal in a year or less if I put my mind to it and held myself accountable. Maybe getting down to a size five isn’t realistic for your body type and history. Would you be satisfied if you lost 15 pounds? Avoid generalizations like "get in shape" and define exactly what that means for you. New behaviors thrive under realistic, achievable goal-setting. Pace your goals and build upon your incremental success. Measure your progress and, as I discuss in step five, chart your achievements.

2. Do One at a Time

Don’t muddy the waters trying to change ten things at once. Loading your proverbial plate with a bunch of stringent to-do's will only overwhelm you and ensure that by February 15 you’ll just have an annoying list of empty goals posted to your fridge. Separate your goals into primary and secondary categories — which ones are most important to you and which ones can wait awhile?

3. Use the 30-Day Method

Experts agree that focusing on one new habit every 30 days is the best approach and offers the best chance of success. Give yourself 30 days to erode the groove of your old habit and set a new single habit in motion. Then move on to the next habit and apply the same principle — by year’s end, you have 12 new positive ways you’ve changed your life, one (sane) month at a time.

4. Go Public

Pride is a big motivator — going public with your plan to engage in a new habit and letting those close to you hold you accountable can reinforce positive behavior and keep you on track. Let your kids know you’ve decided to replace that hour of late-night TV with an hour of reading on the treadmill. When 10:00 p.m. rolls around, their expectations and encouragement might be the extra nudge you need. Go public with your success too — celebrate your incremental victories don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.

5. Write Them Down and Chart Your Success

From checkbook registers to grocery lists, we document everything. But when it comes to new habits, we miraculously avoid putting pen to paper. Don’t be vague — put things down in black and white. Document your goal, and chart every day how you’ve succeeded or failed to meet it. Charting is an essential step in taking a behavior out of the abstract realm and making it a reality. Once you’ve adopted the new habit and it has become part of your natural routine, you can dispense with that chart and move on to the next habit you want to tackle.

Whether you’re setting a new resolution in motion on January 1 or June 12, these principles can help you avoid the pitfalls that turn so many treadmills into coat racks and leave so many positive ideas waiting in the wings. The structure that you create around your new habit will help support you during those "ugh moments" we all have when we begin to fight inertia and start moving forward. Happy new year — and happy new resolutions. 

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5 Ways to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

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Guest's picture

Another thing to do is to work your new habit into your routine if you can instead of adding it on top of your usual routine. A big part of how I got into shape is I started riding my bike. Rather than making time in the morning or evening for a ride, I just left my car at home when I went to work/school.

Guest's picture

Many people give up too quickly on their New Years Resolution because they make their goals too difficult to obtain. Rather than saying that you want to lose 20 pounds, why not set the goal at 5 pounds? Inch by inch, anything's a cinch. Yard by yard, anything's hard.