Yup, the time has come to talk about New Year’s resolution(s)…again. In a time of such, well, pandemonium, creating these types of goals for yourself can feel like a way to stabilize your personal growth and center your happiness at a time when pretty much everything else feels off-kilter. Or it can feel like a completely overwhelming way to put pressure on yourself and feel like a failure before spring. Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to set actually realistic New Year’s resolutions you can follow through on over the course of the year (and after, if you like).
When done in a realistic way, creating resolutions can be a good, productive way to set goals and intentions for the new year and beyond. Deciding to make positive changes, like ditching a bad habit and adopting a healthier one, is always a good idea—one you should see through to the end.
Often, what we don’t realize is that the problem isn’t that we aren’t capable of sticking to our resolutions. The problem is that we need to do a better job making new year goals that are actionable and achievable. Otherwise, it’s almost like setting yourself up to fall short.
“Change is hard. We are creatures of habit,” June Kloubec, Ph.D., a professor in the department of nutrition and exercise science at Bastyr University, tells SELF. “Unless you are very motivated, have good social support, and have the right environment, it is difficult to make lasting behavior changes.”
Experts like Dr. Kloubec, who works with people to get past barriers and make lasting changes, know that there are all sorts of things that can hold people back from reaching their goals. They also know that some small mindset shifts and behavior changes can actually make a big difference in whether or not you’re able to stick with a resolution or goal.
How to set achievable new year goals
Ever heard of a SMART goal? SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. It’s an acronym used a lot in business, and also one that fitness professionals rely on to help clients set doable goals. It’s also pretty handy for any New Year’s resolutions you’re mulling over right now.
Making a goal SMART is a great tactic to increase your chances of actually sticking with it. For many common New Year’s resolutions—like exercising more, changing eating habits, and saving money—implementing this method can really help.
Here’s an example of a SMART goal: “I will exercise for 30 minutes two times a week.” The non-SMART version of that: “I will finally start exercising regularly.” The first one lays out a specific goal that’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. The second one is vague and provides no clear direction for how you’re going to do it. Of course, you’ll also want to think about details, like when this workout will fit best into your schedule, what activity you will actually look forward to doing, and more. But thinking within the SMART framework first is a great way to get started formulating your goals.
13 additional tips for making New Year’s resolutions stick
If you want to set yourself up for the best chance of success, start with these helpful tips for making better resolutions you can actually stick to. They all keep the tenets of SMART goal-setting in mind but take them one step further to give you even more detailed and specific advice.
Need some New Year’s resolution ideas? Check out these 15 excellent resolution ideas that focus on your health, relationships, and making the world a better place.
1. Make smaller resolutions.
You think: “I’m going to spend less, work out more, and get promoted.” All great aspirations, but creating a resolution that’s too big sets you up for failure. The first key to success is zeroing in on one goal, not three. Then do a quick reality check.
“Look at the level of commitment it will require to achieve, and consider if you’ll be able to match it,” Larry Kubiak, Ph.D., director of psychological services at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, tells SELF. Are you really going to be able to read a book a week if your busy schedule currently makes it hard to fit in one a month? Unlikely. And that’s fine! But committing to reading two books a month instead of four could be a good place to start.
2. Seriously, get specific with your goals.
We mentioned this tactic above, but it’s worth emphasizing. “Save money” is a good goal. But…how? And how much? Without some definable parameters, your best intentions can get lost in the shuffle. “The more detailed you can be—’I’m going to save $30 a week by eating out one fewer meal’—the [easier] it is to stay focused on what you have to do to succeed,” Dr. Kubiak says. Setting small, specific goals also keeps you encouraged along the way—each time you meet one, you have reason to celebrate your progress.
3. Write down your goals.
People who write down their goals feel a greater sense of accountability and have a much higher chance of accomplishing them, Elizabeth Ward, Ph.D., psychologist and performance coach and consultant in Boston, tells SELF. Post your goals on your fridge, write them in dry-erase marker on the bathroom mirror, or write them down in a journal.
Journaling can also help you reflect on your progress, Dr. Kloubec says. “Honest reflection can help you to see how you may be sabotaging yourself or to recognize patterns of behavior.” (Check out our picks for the best notebooks and journals out there.)
4. Enlist some help from technology.
A lot of mental health apps out there can help guide you through goal-setting and forming new habits. For example, as SELF has previously reported, there’s MindShift, which teaches you therapy skills to tackle negative thought patterns and also has tools for setting goals and forming habits. Other goal-setting apps to check out: Strides, Streaks, and Productive. There are even journaling apps out there that you can use instead of a physical paper journal if that works better for you.
If your goal is related to improving mental health or starting a meditation or self-care routine, there’s probably a specific app for that, too. (Our list of 41 mental health apps that can make life easier will get you started.)
5. Make your resolutions public.
You might be more likely to achieve your resolutions if you make them public. “Sharing our goals holds us accountable, so it’s harder to back out,” John Norcross, Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology at the University of Scranton and clinical professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University, tells SELF. Obviously, it’s okay to change your mind after making a resolution public and realizing it’s not sustainable, or it’s actually making you unhappy or more stressed in a way that really doesn’t feel worth it or productive. But if you’re really hoping to change certain habits in the long-term, going public might be a good idea.
While sharing with your journal and bathroom mirror help, too, they don’t count as “other people.” Tell your best friend about your New Year’s resolution, and check in with them regularly to chat about it and make sure you’re on track. Better yet, get them on board so you’re both working toward the same goal.
6. Plan your followthrough.
Your resolution should never just be another item on your to-do list. At first, your goal was new and exciting, so you were inspired to make time for it; three weeks in, the novelty may wear off, Emanuel Maidenberg, Ph.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California in Los Angeles, tells SELF. “If each morning you have to find a way to make your goal happen, you’re more likely to decide based on whether you feel like doing it, which we rarely do,” Dr. Maidenberg says.
Instead of relying on pure desire or willpower each day, plan ahead. Plot out a monthly budget or schedule a week’s worth of workouts each Sunday so you don’t have to think about how to fit it all in.
7. Stack your habits.
Attaching your goal to another activity that you do every day—a tactic called habit stacking—can also make it easier to stick with a new endeavor. For instance, if you want to meditate more, plan a nightly session for right after brushing your teeth. The term “habit stacking” was coined by writer S.J. Scott in his e-book Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less. But the premise that having a constant cue (whether that be a preceding activity or a specific setting you associate with a behavior) will make it easier to train yourself to make a behavior a habit isn’t a new concept in psychology, and it really can make a difference.
8. Check in with yourself regularly.
Reassessing your goal throughout the weeks and months it takes to get there is essential. Once you start making changes, you may find your original goal was a little unrealistic. Instead of sticking with it once you find it’s probably not possible, feel free to tweak the goal as you see fit. “I would encourage people to, even after a month, reevaluate their goals,” Dr. Ward says. Look at your lifestyle and revise your goals to make sure they really fit in, she suggests, adding, “Then share with the person that you’re sharing accountability with, or write it down.”
9. Celebrate small successes.
If your focus is just on the endgame, it’s easy to feel discouraged when progress plateaus around the one-month mark, Dr. Kubiak says. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize and reward the smaller successes along the way. If your goal is to run a half-marathon, don’t save the party for the finish line. After each long run, reward yourself with a good book, new music, or fancy latte from your favorite coffee shop. To help you track important milestones and stay motivated along the way, use your journal or goal-tracking app.
10. Remember that it’s OK to slip up (then get back on track!).
If you’ve faltered, know that you’re in good company: “Having a lapse is common,” Dr. Norcross says. What really matters is how you handle it: There are those who spend several days feeling guilty over their misstep, and then those who acknowledge the screwup but get right back on track.
Guess which group is more likely to succeed? “One setback shouldn’t undo all your efforts. Instead of stewing, figure out how to prevent it from happening again,” Dr. Norcross says. Blew this week’s savings on some exciting new camping gear? We get it. But it doesn’t mean your savings goals for the entire year need to go down the toilet.
11. Don’t rely on others to get you where you’re going.
Asking people for support is smart, but to make your resolution stick, now is the time to learn how to be your own cheerleader. In fact, relying too heavily on a pal or family member to get you to do something might actually decrease your motivation to work toward your goals, a 2011 study published in Psychological Science found.
Your partner might be great at getting you out of bed for your morning jog, but what happens when they’re out of town? Without any motivation to hit the treadmill on your own, you and the snooze button will become far too intimate. To remind yourself why this goal is important to you, write little notes and post them where you’ll see them—your desk, the mirror, and, yes, that snooze button.
12. Stick with what works.
“Once your behavior starts to feel routine, it’s easy to assume you have this in the bag and can let down your guard,” Dr. Norcross says. “But that’s when you become vulnerable to missteps.” You may think that because you haven’t smoked in more than two months, you can lift your ban on meeting up with friends who do, or that you can stop scheduling workouts because you’ll just naturally make time for them now. But those techniques were crucial to your success up to this point, and taking them away can dissolve your resolve. As Dr. Norcross urges, “Whatever you’re doing is working, so don’t stop!”
13. Believe in yourself.
“People say that they want to make a resolution, but they don’t believe that they can actually accomplish it,” Dr. Kloubec says. If you know you’re capable of making your desired change, then believe it wholeheartedly. “If not, re-think how you can phrase or re-format your resolution” to be something that you’re confident you can achieve, Dr. Kloubec adds.
When you reach your goal, it’s time to celebrate, of course. But it’s also time to plan how you’ll stick with it moving forward. Making a budget, eating for better heart health, or getting into a regular fitness routine are all positive lifestyle changes that are worth sticking with for more than just the year. Use your sense of accomplishment to further fuel your healthy habits so that you can keep feeling good—and proud of how you’ve bettered yourself—for years to come.
Read the article here: How to Make (and Keep) Your New Year’s Resolutions