The new year marks a time to reflect on ourselves and make plans for change. We see this time as an opportunity for a fresh start and, being the optimists we are, resolve to better ourselves starting January 1st.
And then suddenly it’s February, and the goals we set for ourselves are long forgotten.
This year, make your resolutions stick. Whether you want to get in shape, save money, pay off debt, read more books, or increase your time with friends and family – you can’t do it without a plan. Here are some tips to make this the year your resolutions become habits.
Set the right kind of goals
The first secret to sticking to your new year’s resolutions is to set resolutions that are actually stick-to-able. Resolving to save money or lose weight is admirable, but it’s hardly actionable.
The best goals are the ones that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. A good resolution is to join a gym; a great resolution is to get a gym membership and go for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Friday. When it comes to new year’s resolutions, specific and attainable are the two most important keys to success. If you don’t know exactly what it is you want to achieve, how can you achieve it? And if your goal is not attainable – like if you make a goal of going to the gym every day – you’ll set yourself up for failure.
While you’re making your goals, ask yourself if your plan is really one to which you can commit. Uncover the things standing in your way and figure out how to overcome them. If you make a goal to pay off your credit card debt but your income fluctuates, you’re more likely to succeed if you address the reality of an unpredictable budget. Or, commit to a resolution of normalizing your month-to-month finances.
Make a plan for follow-through
Once you’ve set your SMART goal and committed to it, make a plan to follow through on it.
Your plan can be simple or complicated, so long as it makes sense for you. Write out a list of all the steps you need to take to make your goal happen, crossing them off the list as you accomplish them. It feels great and it motivates you to do more.
You can also plan out all your activities in a calendar. If your resolution is a lifestyle change like drinking more water, set reminders for yourself rather than counting on remembering (or you can always buy gadgets, like the Hidrate smart water bottle to remove any of the work yourself)
Some people have a much easier time of achieving their goals when they have external accountability. The gym buddy is a classic example. But you could also ask your partner or a family member to check in on you once a week to ask if you’re sticking to your resolution. The pain of explaining to your mother that you didn’t make it to the gym could outweigh the pain of running on a treadmill.
More difficult lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, might require more thorough planning and support. Ask for help, even if it pains you, from resources like your doctor, your family, and support groups. The results are worth the effort.
Give yourself time to reflect
Plan some time for yourself to look back on your achievements and make adjustments. Think about what went well and what didn’t. Ask yourself how you can adjust your plan to take advantage of your strengths and shore up your weaknesses. If you resolved to read more and succeeded in finishing your first book, but didn’t pick up a new one afterward, think about ways to make sure you get started on new books. Schedule this as time on your calendar so you don’t forget to do it. Don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge the mistake, and vow to do better next time.
Go easy on yourself
Change is hard. We are creatures of habit, and if change were easy we wouldn’t need to read articles like this one. So give yourself a break and acknowledge up front that you’re not going to achieve perfection in your goal. Know that you are almost certain to screw up at some point and try your best to consider it not as a failure, but a mere setback.
Know that you’ll miss a day at the gym. You’ll miss a credit card payment. You’ll forget to drink water. You’ll fall behind on your reading. You may even smoke another cigarette. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed and shouldn’t keep trying. It means that you’re human, and you’ve made a mistake you can learn from. Think of your new year’s resolution as a journey to enjoy rather than a destination at which to arrive.
The Bottom Line
Make this year the year of personal improvement. Nobody expects perfection from you, so why expect it from yourself? Instead, expect yourself to get better with time and make steps in the right direction. If your resolution is financial, it’s better to set a small savings goal and succeed than to make a big one and fail. If it’s fitness, it’s better to go for a walk twice a week than sign up for a gym membership you won’t use. If, at this time next year, you’re doing more than you are now and enjoying the benefits, then that’s success.