If you read lots of articles on New Year’s resolutions—and I will admit that I do—you might think that no one keeps these promises. Look at the proportion of people who quit by February! Why bother?
Certainly some people do give up, or take their lives in different directions. But as a resolutions fan, I know it’s quite possible to stick with pledges I’ve made to myself. For instance, I wanted to run at least a mile every day in 2017, and I did.
What is true is that keeping resolutions requires being careful about making them. If you hurriedly jotted a few big-picture goals down on January 1, you might find yourself already struggling to materialize them. If so, take a minute to re-evaluate the plan before any more time goes by. Using these seven strategies can make success possible in the 11 months still to come.
01. Make sure it's something you truly want to do.
A year is a long time. You won’t stick with something you don’t find compelling. I chose running for my fitness goal because I love running. I didn’t resolve to do push-ups every day because I don’t want to do push-ups. If you want to keep a resolution, figure out your “why.” A vague sense that it’s good to have savings won’t motivate you to heat up leftovers instead of ordering take-out some night four months from now. But if you are desperate to move out of a relative’s house, then you just might be willing to do what it takes to save up enough for your own apartment’s security deposit.
02. Revisit the specifics.
“Get in shape” is nebulous. How will you even know if you’ve kept that resolution? “Exercise three times per week for at least 20 minutes each time unless I am incapacitated by illness” is more trackable. You can measure and record whether you’ve done it, and that by itself often motivates people to do it. If you're already dragging on your commitment, make some changes to the goal itself that are easier to track and measure.
03. Don’t be audacious.
Some people think that setting big scary goals will motivate them to push themselves. That could work, but it’s also possible that large goals will prove to be unrealistic when life gets in the way. To raise the chances of keeping resolutions, try breaking your goals into smaller, more doable things. I resolved to run 1 mile a day rather than 3 miles, even though I wound up averaging about 3 miles per day over the whole year. On the days I didn’t feel like running, I could tell myself it was only a mile. That would only take me 10 minutes! I can suffer through just about anything for 10 minutes. Since the goal was so doable, I did it. And that made it easier to keep going.
04. Think through the logistics.
Andrea Irwin tells me that she also set a goal in 2017 to read more. But she didn’t leave it at that. She figured out what specific steps she needed to take to spend more of her hours with a book in hand. She decided to start reading earlier at night — “By 8 p.m., so as to not get lost in Netflix. This meant I could get some real time in before getting sleepy, whereas before I might only get to read for 5 minutes before I fell asleep.” She started using the Kindle app on her phone to read ebooks while waiting at the dentist or on her lunch break. She also made sure she always had a good book to read. She started getting recommendations from the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and the "What Should I Read Next?" podcast. She joined Book of the Month club, and she began keeping a list of books read, which motivated her to see the number go up. Are you doing everything you can to set yourself up success? If not, make some tweaks.
05. Think through your stumbling blocks.
If resolutions were easy to keep, everyone would keep them. People who keep these promises to themselves have thought about what might go wrong, and have figured out how they’ll deal with these issues when they arise. I learned to stay in hotels with gyms, and I made sure to look through my schedule each day to figure out when a run might fit. Some days it fit at 4:30 a.m., but I could always find 10 minutes in 24 hours somewhere. In the past, Irwin had stopped reading when she got stuck in a book she didn’t like. So in 2017, “I gave myself permission to let a book go without feeling guilty,” she says. “which meant I was more quickly moving on to a more engaging book.” Once she was willing to abandon a book, she was more willing to try books, and that meant she started reading new genres, “which opened up my reading life more.”
06. Seek accountability.
Thea Zunick tells me that she accomplished most of her resolutions by joining a group of women who held each other accountable to their goals. They created a Facebook group so they had a central place they could visit daily. They all posted screen shots of their goal lists. “We then would post when we were struggling with something (for support and encouragement) or when we accomplished something (for kudos) as we progressed on through the year.” They assigned people to post at different times, too, which meant there were fresh posts in the spring as many people start to drift away from the resolutions they made in the winter. A single accountability partner can work too. Set a day each week when you will check in with each other to make sure that you’re still on track.
07. Celebrate small wins.
We're already a few weeks into 2018. What have you done so far? Give yourself a pat on the back for the achievements you've already realized. I wanted to run every day for a year, but I noted when I’d done 10 days in a row, 30 days, 60 days, 100 days, and other intermediate milestones. Honoring these smaller successes kept me motivated to reach the bigger one.