How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

new Years Resolution checklist next to coffee and phone

The New Year always seems to inspire a renewed sense of purpose, determination, and hope. It’s a time when you put the past behind you, look excitedly to the future, and embark on new adventures. The New Year encourages you to reexamine your life and make new, positive changes.

To mark this transition, you typically create New Year’s resolutions, with the most popular being to lose weight, save more money, enjoy life more, spend more time with family, enjoy treasured hobbies, and meditate more often. You vow to be committed to your new goals and feel certain of your success. You begin the year full of conviction and motivation and then suddenly, BAM, your workload increases, you get into a fight with your significant other, or life takes an unexpected turn, and your well-intentioned goals disappear. It is not surprising that research shows that half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% of them actually achieve them.

So how do you join this elite few? Here are simple and effective ways to ensure you will keep your New Year’s resolutions and have 2019 be your year to succeed!

1. Clearly define your goals. Many people ring in the New Year by proudly proclaiming, “This is the year I’m finally going to get in shape.” But what does that mean? Do you intend to lose a certain number of pounds? Run a 10K race? Bang out 100 sit-ups? Lower your body fat by five percent? Psychologists and behavior modification experts teach us that goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound). The first step to behavior change is to clearly understand what “it” is. A goal to lose ten pounds in three months in order to fit back into your skinny jeans is a clearly defined goal that you can measure and use to evaluate your success.

2. Track your progress. A fundamental principle of psychology states, “If you can measure it, you can change it.” These measurements will be a source of motivation as you reflect on where you started and where you are. They will also help you to identify plateaus or obstacles in your progress so you can adjust your efforts. Being able to track your progress makes the goal more tangible than just keeping it in your head. In today’s digital age, there are numerous apps that will give you guidance on what to do to work on your goals. Some popular and easy to use apps include, “Success Coach: Goal Tracker” and “Fabulous: Motivate Me.”

3. Change one behavior at a time. Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. For this reason, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you have to change multiple aspects of your life all at once. If you attempt to give up smoking, lose weight, save money, and travel more often, you will likely be setting yourself up for failure. Rather, work toward changing one thing at a time.

4. Have patience. Set realistic goals and realize that progress is never linear. Some people will see rapid gains only to hit resistance later in their efforts. For others, initial progress may be painfully slow but then they suddenly achieve rapid breakthroughs. Making lasting changes takes time, so be gentle with yourself as you embark on this process.

5. Share your goals with friends and family. Psychologists know that social accountability is a significant component in motivating you to keep working on your goal when enthusiasm starts to wane. Simply verbalizing your goals to supportive others puts the wheels and cogs of the universe in motion and creates opportunities that further your success. It also motivates you to not give up because others are watching. Yes, it takes some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at, but to dramatically increase your odds of success you’ll want support from those around you. Consider joining a support group to help you achieve your goals, such as a workout class at the gym, or a group of coworkers committed to eating healthy lunches at work. Having someone to support you through your struggles will increase your chance for success.

6. Make it personal. In addition to what you want to accomplish, think about why the goal is important to you. For example, losing weight because you want to feel healthier and have more energy to play with your children is personal motivation, as opposed to losing weight because someone made a negative comment about your appearance. Don’t make a resolution because someone wants you to change. Do it for you! Make sure you appreciate the big-picture goal that’s driving it. What do you want in your life? What would help you achieve better health and greater happiness? New Year’s resolutions should be about being good to yourself. Determine your inner motivation and write it down so that it will personally inspire you to stay on track.

7. Put it on your schedule. How often do you hear people say they can’t “find the time” to do something. Nobody finds the time. We all choose to spend our time the way we do—whether that’s eating junk food or going to a spin class. Make your new goal a priority and actually schedule it into your calendar. If you have a fitness goal schedule time for your workouts. If you want to declutter, schedule time to clean out your closet on your calendar. If you want to save money, put in a weekly budget review into your Sunday afternoons. Think of these time blocks as important appointments—just like an appointment with a doctor. Don’t automatically schedule something else over it or allow other things to take precedence. If you have it scheduled, you are more likely to do it.

8. Stop “all or nothing” thinking; it’s better to do something than nothing. Are you guilty of “all or nothing” thinking? Do you ever think, “Well, I might as well get dessert since I already ate those French fries?” And then, “I blew my diet last night so I’ll just restart it next week.” The difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge. If you don’t have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20-minutes you can. If you have a slight cold or minor injury, decide to just walk the track for a couple of miles. If you have a financial emergency and can’t save your full 10% this month, just save what you can. The bottom line is, any effort towards your goal is better than no effort.

9. Anticipate minor setbacks. None of us are perfect. We all slip up at times. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Consider the word FAIL to stand for First Attempt In Learning and allow yourself to get back up. Resiliency is the key. Don’t turn relapses or temporary setbacks into total meltdowns or excuses for giving up. Instead, just acknowledge the mistake and recommit to the path.

Achieving your goals isn’t about willpower. It’s about developing the right skills and strategies that, with patience, will lead to success. Keep these secrets in mind in the New Year, and you’ll join the elite 8% who will be celebrating their success in the months and years to come.

About the Author: Dr. Susan Spicer is a licensed psychologist specializing in forensic neuropsychology and therapy for trauma-related disorders. She is a member of the clinical team at BRAINS in Grand Rapids, Michigan.