How to make life changes that stick

Dec 11, 2009 at 2:22 p.m. ET

It's that time again -- time to make New Year's resolutions. As you know from years of experience, this is easier said than done. Losing weight, eating right, stopping smoking, saving money... These are always among the most popular new year's resolutions every year. This year, make a life change and stick to it. Don't know how? Read on for these expert tips on how to keep new year's resolutions.

Woman writing in journal

Have a plan

Dr. Michael Finkelstein, board-certified internist and holistic physician, suggests that you employ a strategy when sticking to your life-changing resolutions. Within the context of his healthy living concept of "skillful living," he advises you to remember that impulse is different from preparation. "Write down your goals, map out your path, and look in the mirror," he says. "Accept your life as it currently is before embarking on the change."

My Life
  1. Have a strategy. We all have passionate impulses for change, but making concrete decisions and actions is harder.
  2. Baby steps. Start small. Fulfill one resolution at a time, and that way, you won't get overwhelmed and give up.
  3. Be realistic. You will only be discouraged if you created goals you can't achieve.
  4. Lifestyle resolutions – Make changes you an envelope into your daily life seamlessly – that way you can feel success each and every day.

Start small

According to Dr. LeslieBeth Wish of Sarasota, Florida, a member of the National Association of Social Workers and psychotherapist, says one of the major problems with resolutions is that the freshness of the New Year often propels people to think too big. Start small, she suggests. "It's easy to get swept up into the appeal of a clean slate and make big promises to change old habits such as quitting cigarettes or waking up earlier," she explains. "Janet, a freelance writer, got caught up in false hopes by vowing to wake up before 6:30 every morning. By the third day, she had broken her promise twice." Wish says a wiser plan would be to go to bed earlier once a week, plan to wake up earlier the next morning, and then add more days slowly a week at a time. "Don't take on too many resolutions at once," she adds. "Janet thought she could both wake up earlier and then run two miles."

Keep it real

Michael Ellner, certified medical hypnotist, ordained interfaith minister and counselor, suggests that your goals must be reachable if they are to stick. "Many people fail to reach their goals simply because they are unrealistic," he explains. "Make and follow an action plan. [That] step-by-step action plan for reaching a goal [will make] it easier to reach the goal." Just focus on what you want instead of what you don't want. Say to yourself, "I want to be smoke-free" instead of "I don't want to smoke," for instance.

Establish a lifestyle

Dr. Eric Plasker, health and wellness expert and author of The 100 Year Lifestyle, loves educating about taking full advantage of the new year to make a total lifestyle change that will result in a fun, energetic, gorgeous new you that will last for not just the new year, but for years to come. "Forget about [your] New Year's resolutions and make 'lifestyle resolutions' instead," adds Plasker. "By establishing 'lifestyle resolutions' -- that is, actions that become engrained in your daily activity. You're more inclined to see them through and change your life."