13 Tips for Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 13 tips for sticking to your New Year’s resolutions.

New Year’s Eve is just a few weeks away, and that means it’s the season for resolutions. I’ve always been part of the some 44% of Americans who make (and also break) New Year’s resolutions; I’m a big believer in the power of small changes to make us happier.

Along the way, and especially since I started my resolutions-based happiness project, I’ve hit on some strategies for helping myself stick to resolutions.

1. Be specific. Don’t resolve to “Make more friends” or “Strengthen friendships”; that’s too vague. To make more friends as part of my happiness project, I have several very concrete resolutions like: “Start a group,” “Say hello,” “Make plans,” “Show up,” and “No gossip.”

2. Write it down.

3. Review your resolution constantly. If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it’s easier to stick to it. I review my Resolutions Chart every night.

4. Hold yourself accountable. Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart (my method) — whatever works for you to make yourself feel accountable for success and failure. (If you want to see my Resolutions Chart, as inspired by Benjamin Franklin, email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.)

5. Think big. Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure – a trip to a foreign place, a break-up, a move, a new job. Let yourself imagine anything, and plan from there.

6. Think small. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference. Just keeping your fridge cleared out could give you a real boost. Look close to home for ways to improve and grow.

7. Ask for help. Why is this so hard? But every time I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much easier my task becomes.

If you have an especially tough time keeping resolutions, if you have a pattern of making and breaking them, try these strategies:

8. Consider making only pleasant resolutions. We can make our lives happier in many ways. If you’re struggling to keep your resolutions, try resolving to “Go to more movies,” “Find more time to read,” or whatever resolutions you’d find fun to keep. Often, having more fun in our lives makes it easier to do tough things. Seeing more movies might make it easier to keep going to the gym.

9. Consider giving up a resolution. If you keep making and breaking a resolution, consider whether you should relinquish it entirely. Put your energy toward changes that are both realistic and helpful. Don’t let an unfulfilled resolution to lose twenty pounds or to overhaul your overgrown yard block you from making other, smaller resolutions that might give you a big happiness boost.

10. Keep your resolution every day. Weirdly, it’s often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail, do laundry) than every few days.

11. Set a deadline.

12. Don’t give up if something interferes with your deadline.

13. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Thank you, Voltaire. Instead of starting your new exercise routine by training for the marathon, aim for a 20-minute walk each day. Instead of cleaning out the attic, tackle one bureau drawer. If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.

What else? What are some strategies you’ve discovered, to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions?

If you’re getting geared up to do some happiness resolutions next month, to make 2011 a happier year, join the 2011 Happiness Challenge! I’m still working on the sign-up page; stay tuned.

* The bluebird is a symbol of happiness, so it’s one of my auspicious symbols. A thoughtful reader sent me a link to this fabulous display of Tiffany & Co.’s holiday windows, with bluebird.

* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and each weekday morning, you’ll get a happiness quotation in your email inbox. Sign up here or email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com. I’ve thrilled by the response to this — I started it just a few weeks ago, and almost nine thousand people have signed up already.

  • This was wonderfully on target. I have decided to have an overall goal for the next year, and each month focus on a different aspect of my life that will help me achieve that goal. For instance, we want our home to be uncluttered. February (we have already agreed on this one) will be, “Buy Nothing Month” We feel this will help unclutter both our finances, and our home, because I am not allowed to even go to Goodwill that month, just to see what is there that we might use! We will, of course, pay our bills, but we will buy absolutely nothing. In March, we will buy again, but only if there is a designated place for it to go when we get home, So March will be “Designation Month” We haven’t gotten past this point yet, but you see how it will work maybe.

    This is aside from my one word theme for the year, which is explained here, http://life-dots.blogspot.com/2010/12/new-year-resolutioning-updated.html if anyone is interested.

    Too cool that you were on the Today Show. I am glad you are working so hard to get the word out that we have power over our lives and feelings. Thank you so much for being so open.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good luck with your year! I love this beginning.

  • adamsnider

    Telling others about it will actually decrease your chances of success. By telling others about your goals, you essentially trick yourself into thinking that you’ve already done it.

    Check out this TED Talk on the subject: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_keep_your_goals_to_yourself.html

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve seen that research (though I haven’t seen the TED talk), but I’ve also
      seen studies that seem to point the other way.

  • jenny_o

    Along the lines of #13, I try to remember that every day is a new beginning, a new chance to start over, and not to let a bad day (failure) seep into the new day.

  • LivewithFlair

    With number 4, remember to reward yourself when you succeed.

  • Eileen

    One of the most important things is to put a lot of thought into the resolutions. I started thinking about mine when I started following you a couple months ago and I have already revised them based on what would be unrealistic, etc. By Jan 1 I will be ready to commit to my resolutions because I have put a lot of thought into them (and practiced!).

    • gretchenrubin

      I agree. I tweak my resolutions a lot. It’s funny how even a different
      wording can help make them easier — or harder.

  • Hi Gretchen, I came across your Happiness Project just as I was beginning my New Year’s resolution this year, and I have to admit it is one of the few I have ever stuck to. (I feel fairly confident at December 15th that I’ll get the full year under my belt!). I think your points about accountability and writing it down mean the most to me. I had pondered my resolution of not buying anything new for a year for a while, but telling everyone I knew about it and making a blog about it, helped keep me on track and organized and reminded, as well as making me accountable to others if I fell short. I am already thinking hard about next years goals and resolutions and will post them in a more coherent fashion once I’ve figured it all out (before Dec. 31st!). This also added fun, structure and feedback to my goal. My only previous New Year’s Resolution success was to give up Diet Pop (aka Diet Soda), which I’ve done more than once for a year. Other ‘quittings’ did not occur at Jan. 1st (i.e.: smoking (lasted 11.5 years to date, and being a vegetarian (lasted 7 years, but gave up on it 4 years ago).
    Thanks for all your great tips and advice. I do use your very practical happiness advice day to day and in my work. Today, in fact I referenced something you said about acting the way we want to feel and how putting on a smile can influence our mood for the better. 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Wonderful! I’m so happy that my work was useful to you in keeping such a big

  • There’s something beautifully enriching about thinking big and then also thinking small within that “bigness.”

    I started my own “happiness project” in a way just a few weeks ago, and I continued it by buying YOUR book today.

    There’s something of an effort to have a self-continuity… to prepare oneself for the during and after a crisis, the middle-times, and the up times.

    One resolution I thought about was to not beat myself up over every little thing. Life is not always what I thought it was 24 hours ago, and we have to be OK with that.

  • Hi Gretchen,
    I love number 13. We can keep oursleves from accomplishing anything if we wait until we can get it perfect! Babysteps, that’s what we need!

    • Baby steps indeed. As a child, I remember my Mom asking me to clean out my closet. We’d get two trash bags in and I’d have a hissy fit. It just was too messy before it became clean. Now, as I am maturing, I recognize, I don’t have to clean out my closet in one day, I can start with the clothes. Then, the shoes, and then the socks.

  • Some great tips here, I particularly liked think big and think small! Different sized resolutions are inspiring for different people.

    One thing I would add is to think about starting before Christmas. New Years day can be a pretty tough day without having to start something new. Why not start early and get the support of your friends and family over the holidays. Then it’s into the New Year with a flying start 🙂

    • breathejustbreathe

      I agree that New Years Day can be a tough day for starting anew especially because I’m usually at home and not at my usual work routine. So my solution is to start my resolutions the second day after I start back to work following New Years (the first day back I need to re-acclimate plus everyone brings in their holiday leftovers the first day back and if I’ve made any dietary resolutions, it’s pretty rough going!) I sometimes even wait to write down my official resolutions till this day (I enjoy letting them simmer in my head a few days into the new year, mentally tasting them to see if they are really to my liking or if I’ve made them because they’re the Right Thing to Do.)
      I know everyone has a different way of approaching a new year–this way works for me.

  • @elizabethcraft

    I find it helps to think about doing something positive as opposed to eliminating something negative. Example: “Eat more veggies” rather than “cut out sugar.”

  • “Ask for help.” Best one in the list.

  • JenP

    One of my favourite things about the Happiness Project is the resolutions! I loved keeping resolutions anyway but after reading the book I’ve found it easier to keep my resolutions.

    The best tip for me is “Keep your resolution every day” – I’ve started running recently after never being particularly sporty and by doing it every day, I find I can keep it up.

    I’ve also started two blogs too as suggested in the Happiness Project, and I’m going to try to post to those everyday…


  • I love how you mentioned holding yourself accountable by working in a like-minded group. I actually just posted my New Year’s resolution to http://www.1millionresolutionchallenge.com

    It’s a site that’s collecting resolutions and displaying them in a stream. It reminds me that I’m not the only one who is working toward a goal. Plus, it keeps me accountable. The world can see my resolution – and they can know whether or not I’m holding up to it. 🙂

    Also, I couldn’t agree more on “don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” I have a tendency to over analyze and raise my expectations beyond what I know can be achieved. Thank you for reminding me to look at myself – not above or below where I am. Great post!

  • Mskrobacz

    I started making New Year’s Resolutions several years ago and have kept them every year. I started simple: one year, I decided to use less paper napkins in public restaurants. Every time I took only the napkins I needed, I felt exhilarated! Last year, I resolved to wear more lip balm. Living in Colorado (where it is extremely dry) my lips were always chapped! I didn’t have chapped lips ONCE last year. This year? I’m going to wear my “good” clothes” more often. 🙂

  • Guru Eduardo

    Great tips Gertchen, and let me add one that will ensure everyone is successful this year…

    Since most people have failed within the first 90 days to meet their resolutions, we need to set ourselves up for success instead of failure. So here’s how to ensure success

    Think of something that you love to do and that is good for you..

    Then resolve to do more of that! Simple.

    Smile, God was just showing off when he made you.

    Guru Eduardo

  • Jack S.

    Hi Gretchen,

    Just thought I’d suggest mySoemday.com as a great site for listing goals for the new year and then breaking those goals down into sets of actionable steps. This is the set of goals (including some New Years Resolutions) I’m working on right now and the planning tools and community of supporters has really helped keep me on track. http://bit.ly/9IWC8T

    • Jack S.

      Sorry, meant mySomeday.com. Spelled it wrong the first time.