5 tips to make your New Year’s resolutions stick

A person jumping into the air with a 2017 sign
Photo by turgaygundogdu/Shutterstock

If you’ve continually failed to stick to your New Year’s resolutions (and according to research, you likely have), you’re probably feeling a little disenchanted about setting any goals this time of year. But it’s not about what goals you make, or even when you make them. If you want to join the elite 8 percent of people who actually follow through on their New Year’s resolutions, you need to consider how you’re setting your goals. Here’s how to create New Year’s resolutions that actually stick.

Be specific

It’s easy to say that you’re going to be healthier, get organized, or smarten up financially this year, but it’s just as easy to dismiss each of these goals when they haven’t been clearly defined. In fact, not only is a goal like “be healthy” too broad, so is “exercise more often” or “eat more greens.” If you’d like to be healthier in the new year, you need to devise a specific workout plan and how many days per week you’re going to do it. If you want to eat more leafy greens, figure out how many more meals you want to incorporate these foods into, and then find some recipes to start with. Goals need to be specific and measurable to work, because otherwise, there’s no real way to track your progress. Which brings us to our next tip…

Hold yourself accountable (and have others do the same)

If your goal is measurable, you should be able to track your progress. This won’t just allow you to reflect on how far you’ve come (and what areas you still need to improve in), but it will also help you hold yourself accountable. And if that’s not enough, be sure to tell all of your family and friends. In a goal-setting study based out of the Dominican University of California, the group of participants who wrote their goals down, broke them into action steps, and shared them with friends were more successful than those who merely thought deeply about them before rating their difficulty and importance. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who did the former and also sent updates to friends were the most successful. Because when you know you have loved ones rooting for you, you won’t want to let them down.

Be realistic

All of the above goes out the window if the goals you set aren’t achievable in even the best circumstances. Studies have shown that repeated behaviour can actually rewire your brain, writing these habits into your “mental machinery” and making them that much harder to kick. That doesn’t mean you can’t change bad habits, it just means you shouldn’t expect it to happen overnight. Start small and set a realistic timeline—rewriting your brain takes time.

Give yourself a break

If you do miss a scheduled night at the gym, don’t be too hard on yourself. One mistake doesn’t mean you have to give up. Accept that you’re human and, as we said before, learning something new takes time. You’re going to have ups and downs no matter what, which is why resilience is so key. Because the quicker you learn to get back up after you fall down, the more successful you’ll be.

Don’t rely on willpower alone

The reason you need to be specific, realistic, hold yourself accountable, and give yourself a break is because willpower isn’t enough on its own. According to a group of researchers at Florida State University, if you want to keep your New Year’s resolution, you need to anticipate the limits of your willpower. These researchers conducted a study that tracked people’s reactions to temptations and found that the people with the best self-control were actually the ones who exercised willpower the least often. An article in The New York Times described it as playing offence rather than defence, setting up your life to minimize temptation and conserving your energy for the moments self-control is really needed.

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