The new year presents the perfect opportunity to change your life for the better. As midnight strikes and the calendar turns, your spirit and motivation are running high. But it’s no secret that actually making a change is hard, and sticking with it is even harder. Over time, that start-of-the-year motivation can degrade into resignation, leaving you feeling defeated. Even worse, you might end up waiting around until next year to try again.
On the other hand, sticking with your New Year’s resolution can be empowering and transformative. Successful resolutions have the potential to trigger a cascade of positive changes. So it’s important to do everything you can to make sure your new changes stick. Here are seven ways to make this the year you finally follow through with your New Year’s resolutions.
1. Remember Your Why
Your motivation to change and your reason to do so may feel crystal clear while bottles are popping on New Year’s Eve. However, as the holidays begin to fade in the rear-view mirror, that clarity tends to go with them. Approximately 23% of resolutioners quit in the first week of January, and only 36% make it to February and beyond. You might give up because you got too busy, changed your priorities, or honestly just forgot. Overwhelmingly, though, the main reason you people abandon their resolve is due to a lack of motivation.
As intense as your motivation might feel on December 31st, the reality is that it will fade over time. So instead of throwing your hands up in resignation, plan for that eventuality. As you make your resolution, write down your reason for doing so and keep it somewhere you can see it regularly. Repeatedly remind yourself of why you want to change in the first place. Arm yourself with a strong enough why and you’ll increase your ability to endure any how.
2. Make S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Another common failure point for many a resolutioner is goal setting. It can feel great to set lots of ambitious goals for yourself when your motivation is at its peak. Set the goal post too high or too far, though, and you’ll kick your motivation in the shins. At the same time, if you aren’t ambitious enough, you’ll soon become bored and disinterested. So setting proper goals at the edge of your comfort zone is a tricky but worthwhile proposition.
Thankfully, some smart people have thought a lot about that exactly and generated a system of S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Say you’ve wanted to write a novel for a long time, and this is the year you’re finally going to put pen to paper. You could set a S.M.A.R.T. goal to sit down at your desk to write 1000 words at 7 p.m. every day. With your why in mind, generate intelligent component goals to help you achieve your overarching goal.
3. Design Your Environment For Success
Encouraging habit growth is one of the best ways to help keep your new S.M.A.R.T. goals and your resolution alive. And designing your environment is one of the best ways to help you facilitate that growth. Like it or not, you are, to some significant degree, a product of your environment. And your environment isn’t just rivers and trees — it’s the regular places, things, and even people you interact with. Personal environmental design is a critical habit-formation factor that many ignore to their detriment.
For how much your environment affects your habits, it’s surprisingly simple to design it to your benefit. Say your resolution is to become healthier by eating more greens and decreasing your sugar consumption. You can design your environment by storing your favorite greens front and center in your fridge. Conversely, you can store sweets in a difficult-to-reach drawer or, even better, don’t buy them in the first place. Use positive and negative design philosophies to make desired habits easier to do and undesired habits harder to do.
4. Establish Keystone Habits
Designing your environment properly will go a long way toward helping you establish your desired habits. You might keep a pen and open journal at your bedside to encourage your nightly writing practice, for example. But keep in mind that not all habits are created equal, and some will have a greater effect on your well-being than others. The habits that produce the greatest effect on your overall well-being are called keystone habits. They are the foundation upon which the success of your other habits rests.
Think of keystone habits like the first in a series of dominoes — knock it over, and the rest will follow. For some, your keystone habits may be meditating or walking, while others enjoy cooking, cleaning, or tai chi. Following the completion of a keystone habit, there’s an increased chance that you’ll chain together another smaller habit. Keystone types vary between people, but the three essentials for most are getting good sleep, eating well, and regularly exercising. Establish and focus on improving your keystone habits to help boost the likelihood of keeping your resolution alive.
5. Prepare For The Unexpected
Just as not every habit is created equal, neither is every day. Some days are simply harder than others, and that’s just the reality of it. Even with your keystones in place, likely due to unforeseeable circumstances, it will be more challenging to complete your resolution tasks. A bad day can completely derail your motivation, habits, and, of course, your resolution. But rather than throw your hands up when you’re blindsided, prepare yourself for the unexpected.
With your S.M.A.R.T. goal in mind, think about what you can do on a downer day that still moves you toward that goal. When you don’t have the time or energy to write 1000 words today, write 100 instead. Cut your hour-long meditation practice down to just five minutes of breathwork. Take your goal and condense it into a miniaturized version of itself. That way, even when the unexpected happens, you’ll still have done something that you can carry into tomorrow.
6. Track Your Progress
S.M.A.R.T. goals will help you chop away at your daily activities even when you’re just not feeling it. But there still may be times when you may wonder if what you’re doing really works or not. Sure, you’re doing your exercise routine every day, but are you actually getting stronger? Feelings of frustration from intangible progression are another very real failure point that can destabilize your budding habit system.
When these frustrating feelings do eventually arise, and there’s a good chance they will, you need evidence to the contrary. That’s why it’s important to track your progress with concrete metrics. You might forget that when you first started your weight training, you could only lift a few pounds at a time. By using a journal or an online calendar, you can record your progression and save it for later. Go through your notes and remind yourself how far you’ve come to give yourself a boost of evidence-based confidence.
7. Find An Accountability Buddy
No matter how determined you are, sticking with habits can be hard. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that it will always be easier just not to do whatever it is you’ve committed to doing. Humans are social creatures that naturally value the respect and approval of their peers. Peer pressure is often discussed with negative connotations, but it can actually stimulate you to take action. Rather than drown alone, use this psychological phenomenon of your biology to your advantage.
Ask a trusted friend, family member, or co-worker to check in with you on a regular basis. By having someone hold you accountable, you’ll increase the chances that you actually complete the tasks you set out for yourself. You could even find someone else who’s set on fulfilling their own resolution or who generally wants to improve themselves. There are tons of self-help and development communities both online and in person. Habit formation can be challenging, and you don’t have to go it alone.
Believe In Yourself
Like fresh-fallen snow, January is a canvas upon which you can create yourself anew. Establish good keystone habits using S.M.A.R.T. goals to give yourself a strong foundation. Upon that foundation, and with your why in mind, you can build your resolution habit. Track your progress and ask someone to help keep you accountable. A little progress each day is still worth celebrating.
[Related: 12 New Years Productivity Hacks]
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Pressmaster; Pexels; Thank you!