New Years comes around and we make a pact with ourselves to improve our lives, end bad habits, and commit to long neglected goals. But two weeks later all our good intentions seem to always fall by the wayside and we wind up feeling guilty, defeated, and frustrated at our inability to make our new years resolutions stick.
Here are some great tips that might help you stay on track and turn that short term goal into long term results. Let me know what you have done that has worked in the comments below.
- Start Small
This is one of the most important things you can do. So often we make a long list of everything we want to change and quickly get overwhelmed when we try and accomplish it all. It is key to find one pressing thing that you feel would be enjoyable for you to do and focus only on it. For example if you are going to go on a diet, pick one aspect like don't eat sugar, or eat less, or eat more vegetables. Instead of radically changing everything at once. If you change to much, or put too many things on your plate, you burn out quickly and find yourself falling into old patterns. If you start small the changes you make begin to stick and then you can add in other changes and soon you have made a lasting, radical, transformation.
- Make Yourself Accountable
One way to make yourself honor your commitments is to be accountable for your success. A great way to accomplish this is find a partner, friend, or colleague who you can check in with on a regular basis to report your progress. It also provides much needed support and structure. For example if one of your resolutions is to go to the gym more often, having a work out buddy is great way to motivate you. It is much easier to blow off the exercise if it is just you, but if you are meeting someone there it makes it much harder to break your commitment. Find someone who has similar goals or needs to be held accountable as well and support each other in accomplishing your resolutions.
- Give Yourself a Reward
A great way to motivate yourself is to give yourself a reward for work well done. If you set small goals and accomplish them, then treat yourself to something you are looking forward to. That way there is a tangible, immediate payoff for sticking to your commitments. Don't put the reward to far into the future, but reward your progress along the way. For example if your resolution is to lose 20 lbs, don't wait untill you have lost all 20, instead reward yourself after every 5lbs, with something fun, like a new article of clothing, going to movie, buying a new electronic gadget, shopping on itunes, getting your nails done, etc.
- Remind Yourself of the Positive Outcome
This is one of the most important steps you can do to succeed in sticking to your resolution. So often as we embark on a big change we notice the difficulties involved and forget about what we are gaining. As we come up against our obstacles it is important to remind ourselves of why we have chosen to make the change. For example, if you are trying to quit smoking instead of focusing on how much you miss cigarettes focus on how good your lungs feel and how much more energy you have. A good way to remind yourself of the positive outcome is to pick a phrase that emphasizes the positive outcome and say it every time you are tempted to return to your old behavior. For example when you want a cigarette say "I choose health". It helps you feel in charge of your life and strengthens your will power and resolve.
- Make it a Habit
The definition of a habit is "an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary". We have many habits in our lives, some good, some bad, but the nice thing about a habit is it becomes second nature. If you can make your resolution into a habit, real change will have occurred. It has been said that it takes on average 21 days to create a habit. This is great news, because to do something consistently for 21 days is a much easier thought than trying to do it for life. So when you set a resolution give yourself a goal of doing it consistently for 21 days. At the end re-evaluate and see if it has become easier. If so set out to do it for another 21 days. Soon you will notice a deep and lasting change and it will feel weird not to do it. Also know that habits are easily broken - that is good when you want to break a bad habit, but that means you also have to continue to practice the good habits you create.
- Be Realistic
Many times when we resolve to change something in our life we make extreme goals (i.e. I'm going to exercise 7 days a week, I'm going to lose 30lbs, etc.). The danger in this is that we set ourselves up for failure and it is therefore easier to give up and return to our old patterns. When setting a goal pick something that is easily accomplished. This will help you see real results and encourage you to continue versus giving up. For example, if you are a very busy person but you want to exercise more, maybe start with working out at least two times a week. Once you've done this for 21 days and you are feeling like exercise is part of your routine, add in another day. Which brings me to my next tip....
- Do it Incrementally
This may be the most important step in succeeding to sticking to your resolutions. It is much easier to do something incrementally than all at once. The benefit of doing something incrementally is that you see success, which only encourages you to continue. The best way to do something incrementally is to set short time frames for practicing your resolution. So if for example you are giving up chocolate, instead of saying "I am never going to eat chocolate again" you say "I won't eat chocolate for a week". At the end of the week say "I will not eat chocolate for another week". Pretty soon a month has gone by, then 6 months, then a year. When you fall off the wagon, you don't feel bad because then you just start the process over again. Or you can also add things in, so start doing something once a week, then twice a week, etc. until you reach your ideal goal. This system sets you up for success instead of failure and gives you many small accomplishments along the way to feel good about and reward yourself for.
- Strengthen Your Will Power
This is possibly the most challenging thing we face when trying to make a change. When the obstacles, desires, and responsibilities of our lives creep in it seems easy to abandon our resolutions. How we strengthen our will power so we are creating positive change is to begin to ask a new set of questions. Instead of asking "Do I want to watch TV or go for a run?", ask yourself "Do I want to feel one step closer to my ideal body or not?". This is a simple shift in perspective that helps you to again focus on the positive outcome. Also remind yourself of the negative outcomes that caused you to want to make the change in the first place.
- Make a Decision
When we decide something it gives us determination and helps us follow through on our resolutions. The simple act of saying "I decide to.." changes our perspective on how we approach our goals and makes us feel a sense of deep commitment to our new purpose. A decision is unmistakable, free from hesitation/wavering, and resolute and allows us to be steadfast in our pursuit of making our life changes.
- Write it Down
I have found whenever I write something down it makes it more real, both in the actions I take and in my ability to accomplish my goals. The best way I have found to use this technique is to make a list of my resolutions then put them away in place I don't look at very often and forget about the list. When the year is up, I pull my list out and always am surprised at just how many of the items on my list have come to fruition.