10 Great Tips for Keeping Your Resolutions This Year

Psychological strategies that can help you stick to your goals

The start of a new year is the perfect time to turn a new page, which is probably why so many people create New Year's Resolutions. A new year often feels like a fresh start, a great opportunity to eliminate bad habits and establish new routines that will help you grow psychologically, emotionally, socially, physically, or intellectually. Of course, resolutions are much easier to make than to keep and by the end of January many of us have abandoned our resolve and settled back into our old patterns.

According to one survey, only around 9 percent of people who make New Year's Resolutions felt that they were successful in achieving their goals. Some of the most common resolutions included losing weight, making better financial choices, quitting smoking, and spending more time with family.

While many people feel that they don't necessarily achieve their goals, there is some good news. According to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that those who set New Year's resolutions are 10 times more likely to actually change their behavior than people who don't make these yearly goals.

So why do millions of people resolve to change at the beginning of every year? A recent series of studies into what researchers have dubbed the "fresh start effect" has looked at how temporal landmarks can motivation aspirational behaviors. The beginning of a new year seems like an opportunity for a fresh start, which is why so many people set sometimes overly lofty resolutions during these times. While this can sometimes lead people to bite off more than they can chew, such moments can also present great opportunities to overcome struggles with willpower.

So what can you do to make it more likely that you will keep your next resolution?

Choose a Specific, Realistic Goal

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Every year, millions of adults resolve to "lose weight" or "get in shape" during the next year. Instead of selecting such an ambiguous goal, focus on something more concrete that you can realistically set your sights on. For example, you mights commit to losing 10 pounds or running a mini-marathon. Choosing a concrete, achievable goal also gives you the opportunity to plan exactly how you are going to accomplish your goal over the course of the year.

Pick Just One Resolution

While you might have a long list of potential New Year's Resolutions, Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at Hertfordshire University, suggests that you should pick just one and focus your energies on it rather than spreading yourself too thin among a number of different objectives.

The American Psychological Association also suggests focusing on just one behavior at a time is more likely to lead to long-term success. Taking on too much all at once can be daunting. It can be particularly difficult too because establishing new behavioral patterns takes time. Focusing your efforts on one specific goal makes keeping a resolution much more achievable. 

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute

Planning is an essential part of achieving any goal. Experts suggest that you should spend some time planning out how you will tackle a major behavior change. If you start working toward a goal without any type of plan in place, you might quickly find yourself giving up any time you face any sort of obstacle, difficulty, or resistance. 

You can start by writing down your goal, making a list of things you might do to achieve that goal, and noting any obstacles that might stand in your way. By knowing exactly what you want to accomplish and the difficulties you might face, you'll be better prepared to stick to your resolution and overcome potential struggles.

Start With Small Steps

Taking on too much is a common reason why so many New Year's Resolutions fail. Dramatically slashing calories, over-doing it at the gym, or radically altering your normal behavior are sure-fire ways to derail your plans. Instead, focus on taking tiny steps that will ultimately help you reach your larger goal.

If you have resolved to run a marathon, start out by going for a jog two or three times a week. If you are trying to eat healthier, start by replacing some of your favorite junk foods with more nutritious foods. While it may seem like a slow start, these small changes make it easier to stick to your new habits and increase the likelihood of long-term success.

Avoid Repeating Past Failures

Another strategy for keeping your New Year's Resolution is to not make the exact same resolution year after year. "If people think they can do it they probably can, but if they've already tried and failed, their self-belief will be low," explained Wiseman in an interview with The Guardian.

If you do choose to reach for the same goals you've tried for in the past, spend some time evaluating your previous results. Which strategies were the most effective? Which were the least effective? What has prevented you from keeping your resolution in past years? By changing your approach, you will be more likely to see real results this year.

Remember That Change Is a Process

Those unhealthy habits that you are trying to change probably took years to develop, so how can you expect to change them in just a matter or days, weeks, or months? It may take longer than you would like to achieve your goals, but remember that this is not a race to the finish. Once you have made the commitment to changing a behavior, it is something that you will continue to work on for the rest of your life.

Don't Let Small Stumbles Bring You Down

Encountering a setback is one of the most common reasons why people give up on their New Year's Resolutions. If you suddenly relapse into a bad habit, don't view it as a failure. The path toward your goal is not a straight one and there are always going to be challenges. Instead, view relapses as learning opportunities.

If you are keeping a resolution journal, write down important information about when the relapse occurred and what might have triggered it. By understanding the challenges you face, you will be better prepared to deal with them in the future.

Get Support From Your Friends and Family

Yes, you've probably heard this advice a million times, but that is because the buddy system actually works. Having a solid support system can help you stay motivated. Explain what your goals are to your close friends or family and ask them to help you achieve your objectives. Better yet, enlist the help of others by joining a group that shares your goal.

Renew Your Motivation

During the first days of a New Year's Resolution, you will probably feel confident and highly motivated to reach your goal. Because you haven't really faced any discomfort or temptation associated with changing your behavior, making this change might seem all too easy.

After dealing with the reality of dragging yourself to the gym at 6 a.m. or gritting your teeth through headaches brought on by nicotine withdrawal, your motivation to keep your New Year's Resolution will probably start to dwindle. When you face such moments, remind yourself of exactly why you are doing this. What do you have to gain by achieving your goal? Find sources of inspiration that will keep you going when times get tough.

Keep Working on Your Goals

By February, many people have lost that initial spark of motivation that they felt immediately after making their New Year's Resolution. Keep that inspiration alive by continuing to work on your goals, even after facing setbacks. If your current approach is not working, reevaluate your strategies and develop a new plan.

Consider keeping a resolution journal, where you can write about your successes and struggles. Write down the reasons why you are working toward your goal so that you can refer to them during times when you feel uninspired and unmotivated. By sticking with it and working on your goal all year long, you can be one of the few able to say that you really did keep your New Year's Resolution.

Source:

Dai, H, Milman, KL, & Riis, J. The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior. Management Science. 2014;2563 - 2582. doi:10.1287/mnsc.2014.1901.

Norcross, JC, Mrykalo, MS, & Blagys, MD. Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2002;58(4);397-405. doi:10.1002/jclp.1151.