How to keep New Year's resolutions
Every year, you start off in January with a long list of things you're going to change. Why not set yourself up for success instead? Set realistic goals that you can actually keep throughout the year. Here's how.
As December comes to a close, we polish off the last of the holiday cookies, skip the morning workout while visiting relatives, and snap at the kids when everyone's overloaded on sugar and presents. We return home, resolved to Make Changes. We write out a list and post it on the fridge. And by the end of January, the list is buried under unsigned permission slips and cupcake recipes for the bake sale, and not a single item is crossed off.
Once again, we've sabotaged ourselves. What's worse, we don't even always realize that's what we're doing.
Set up for successThe trick to making resolutions you can keep is to first understand how to write a good resolution, one that automatically sets you up for success. And no, that doesn't mean that the goal should be to lose less weight or to read fewer books or to run more miles. Rather, you step back from the overarching goal: lose weight, read more, exercise more -- and approach your resolution differently.
"Lose weight" is far too broad. "Lose 15 pounds by the end of March" is better, but still not great. Yes, it's a goal, a marker, but how are you getting there? How do you measure success on February 2? Instead, aim for something like, "I resolve to stop taking second helpings at dinner." "I resolve to eat five servings of vegetables daily." "I resolve to keep a food journal for two weeks." "I resolve to meet with a nutritionist by the end of the month."
These are goals you can reach and cross off. These are goals that will get you to the end of March -- and beyond. These are goals that set you up for success.
Incremental stepsYou can take this approach with any resolution on your list. Instead of resolving to write a novel, resolve to spend 15 minutes writing every day. If your goal is to run a marathon, start by committing to follow the Couch to 5K plan for two weeks. Give yourself a fighting chance. Nothing succeeds like success. Something that's working motivates you to keep going.
What about goals that are inherently less tangible, like resolving to be a better parent? This, too, is something you can do -- if you go about it the right way. Think for a few minutes about what exactly you want to change. What does success look like? How can you get there? You might start by resolving not to raise your voice to your kids, or to start using a special phrase to indicate that you're mad and need a few minutes to cool off.
Creating great goalsThe best goals and resolutions, as you can see, are those that let you work a little bit every single day. Commitment is a long-term thing, and the only way to get there is with a lot of practice. That means getting up every day and working for what you want.
Your goal is to stop procrastinating? Commit to spending 20 minutes a day on the tasks you usually put off. You want to spend more time with your spouse? Set a 10-minute date every morning or evening to touch base and catch up. You want to make more money? Spend 15 minutes daily looking for new clients or accounts, suggesting additional responsibilities to your boss, or brainstorming ways to improve processes. You get the idea.
Checkpoints for celebrationThe final key to successful resolutions is to create checkpoints along your path. Right now, while you're still excited about setting goals, take the time to schedule some followups in your calendar. Whether you use an electronic or paper organizer, jot down reminders and celebration points. Check in with yourself, celebrate your success, and adjust your goals as necessary.
With a little practice, you can create New Year's resolutions you'll enjoy keeping all year long.