Determined to Keep Your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s How.

I love making New Year’s resolutions. Yes, January 1 might be an arbitrary date, but I think it’s good that we all have a cue to ask ourselves, “What would I like to change about my life? How could it be better than before?”

Most of us have a list of things we’d like to do better — and very often, those things involve habits. Exercise, sleep, fun, eating, relaxing, and so on.

In my book Better Than Before, I list all twenty-one strategies that we can use to make or break the habits that shape our lives. All the strategies are powerful and effective, but some are more universal than others. Here are some of the most popular ones, to start you thinking.

1. Be specific.

Don’t resolve to “Eat more healthfully.” That’s too vague. What are you really asking of yourself? Resolve to “Eat breakfast,” “pack a lunch,” “stop eating fast food,” “cook dinner at home,” or “no more sugary soda.” That’s the Strategy of Clarity.

I did this with reading. I love to read, but I wasn’t spending enough time reading. So I resolved to “Quit reading a book I don’t like” (which changed my life), “Do ‘study’ reading on the weekend,” and I also monitor my reading — see below.

2. Monitor your resolution.

If we monitor something, we manage it much better. Just simply tracking how much you are — or aren’t — doing something will push you in the right direction. That’s the Strategy of Monitoring. With reading, I’ve started to post a photo on my Facebook page every Sunday night to show what books I’ve read that week. I find this very fun and satisfying, and I have to say, it also helps me push myself to find more time to read.

3. Figure out your Tendency.

There are Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Take the quiz here.  This is the Strategy of the Four Tendencies.

4. Give yourself external accountability. 

Now that you know your Tendency, if you’re an Obliger, to keep a resolution, give yourself external accountability. This is key. Tell other people about your resolution, work out with a trainer, take a class, do something with a friend, hire a coach.

Or start a Better Than Before Habits Group, where people hold each other accountable. Everyone can be working on different resolutions — what matters is that they’re holding each other accountable. To get the “starter kit” for people launching an accountability group, request it here. This is the Strategy of Accountability.

Note: the Strategy of Accountability can also be helpful to Upholders and Questioners — but it’s often actually counter-productive for Rebels.

5. Treat yourself!

This is the most fun way to strengthen your resolutions. When we give ourselves healthy treats, we boost our self-command — which helps us keep our resolutions. When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. But make sure they’re healthy treats. Food and drink, shopping, and screen time are often unhealthy treats. This is the Strategy of Treats.

6. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Thank you, Voltaire.  If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.  Try to use your slip-up as a lesson in how to do better next time. Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more. This is the Strategy of Safeguards.

7. Sign up for the 21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change.

To thank people who pre-order the paperback of Better Than Before, I’m giving them this email package for free. Each morning for twenty-one days, I’ll send you an email that describes a different strategy that you can harness to master your habits. If you’re determined to keep a New Year’s resolution this year, I hope you’ll get lots of ideas about how to do that.

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

Podcast 42: Act the Way You Want to Feel, Consider Giving Up a Temptation, and I Manage to Get Back to the Gym.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: I hold Elizabeth accountable for pondering her YA novel.

And loyal sister that she is, Elizabeth gave a plug for the paperback of Better Than Before, which comes out December 15.  To thank people who order early, if you do pre-order, you get the “21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change” email package for free. But act fast. Info here.

Even more news! Elizabeth and I are doing our first live recording of the podcast! If you’re in the Bay Area, January 21, Brava Theater, we hope to see you there. Info and tickets here.  We’ll have two excellent guests, and some special little treats, plus you get a copy of Better Than Before with your ticket.

Try This at Home: Act the way you want to feel. Want to know all my Twelve Personal Commandments? Look here.

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: We’re working our way through the twenty-one strategies for habit change that I discuss in Better Than Before. In this episode, we talk about the Strategy of Abstaining (which we’ve talk about before, for instance, in back episode 2, but we keep hearing from listeners about it).

Listener Question: “What’s the line between freeing yourself from an obligation that’s become counter-productive versus quitting something prematurely, that you ought to stick with?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit:  Elizabeth hasn’t had her hair cut and colored for months.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: In episode 41, I gave myself a demerit for not going to the gym. This time, I get a gold star for switching gyms; I used the Strategy of Convenience to join a gym closer to my apartment, and I have in fact started to go to the gym again.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin #42 - Listen at Happiercast.com/42

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out  The Great Courses for a wide variety of fascinating courses taught by top professors and experts in their fields. Special offer for our listeners: go to thegreatcourses.com/happier to order from eight of their bestselling courses, including The Science of Mindfulness, and get up to 80% off. Limited time.

Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and a free in-home consultation. Limited time.

 

We love hearing from listeners

 

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

1pix

Happier with Gretchen Rubin #42 - Listen at Happiercast.com/42

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HAPPIER listening!

 

My Sister Elizabeth and I Will Record an Episode of Our Podcast–Live! San Francisco, January 21.

My sister Elizabeth and I are so excited. We’re doing a live event for our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

If you live in the Bay Area, we hope to see you there! it will be a very fun evening. Please come, bring your friends, help spread the news.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brava Theater

2781 24th Street, San Francisco

7:00-8:30 p.m.

More info and buy tickets here. Tickets are $40, and with that, you get a ticket to the show, a copy of my paperback Better Than Before, and admission to a book-signing party afterward. Elizabeth and I also have a few little surprises to hand out (we couldn’t resist).

So please come. We’d love to meet you — we’re really looking forward to being able to see listeners while we’re recording. We have two fascinating, hilarious guests lined up, and we’ve thought of a fun, unusual segment, to take advantage of the fact that we’ve got an actual live audience. (But don’t worry, we won’t do that thing where people are picked randomly out of the audience. That always makes me so tense.)

Bonus: our delightful producer Henry Molofsky, who has been featured in a few episodes, will also be there.

We’ve been thrilled by the success of Happier. We’re getting very close to five million downloads. Yowza.

Hope to see you on January 21!

5 Quick, Easy Habits that Have Actually Strengthened My Relationships.

When people think about changing their habits, they often think of the diet-and-exercise family of habits.

Also, as much as I personally love habits, I know that many people associate habit-change with having to make a lot of effort.

But habits don’t have to take a lot of time or energy to form, and they can help us with any aspect of our lives. I have to admit, even now, after spending years thinking about habits, I’m astonished by how much a truly tiny habit can boost happiness.

For instance, here are some examples of a few quick, easy habits that I’ve adopted to strengthen my relationships. They’re all practically effortless, they all make me happier.

These kinds of habits are particularly helpful to me, because the truth is, I can get lost in my own head, and become so focused on crossing something off my to-do list that I neglect to make time to connect with the people who are most important to me. In the tumult of everyday life, I find it all too easy to overlook what really matters.

So I’ve made these habits:

1. I kiss my husband first thing in the morning, and I kiss him last thing at night.

It might sound silly to schedule kisses — but for me, if it’s on the calendar, it gets done, and if not, not. That’s the power of the Strategy of Scheduling!

2. Our family gives each other a real “hello” and “good-bye” every time one of us comes or goes.

When our two daughters were little, they’d greet me and my husband with wild enthusiasm whenever we walked in the door, and often cried miserably when we left. Then we went through a period when barely looked up from their own games or homework or books when we walked in or out — and I was a major offender in this area, myself. So we made a family resolution to “Give warm greetings and farewells.”  For instance, instead of letting my older daughter yell, “I’m leaving” before she disappears out the door to go to school, I call, “Wait, wait,” and hurry to give her a real hug and a real good-bye.  As a consequence, each day, several times, we have moments of real connection among all members of our family. (Want to read more about this? Check out my book Happier at Home.)

3. With my parents and sister, I do “updates.”

This was my mother’s idea. We’ve all noticed that when you see people all the time, you have a lot to say to them; when you talk to them more rarely, it’s easy to fall into a “What’s new?” “Not much, what’s new with you?” type conversation. So the four of us do “updates.” Every few days, we send an email with the subject line of “update,” we give the most basic details of what we’re doing, and we rarely reply to each other. Our motto is “It’s okay to be boring.” Elizabeth and I discuss it here. We’ve heard from so many people who have started this habit!

4. Before my daughters go to bed each night, I spend some time with each girl, holding her in my arms and talking about her day.

It’s interesting: growing up, my family wasn’t at all demonstrative, and I never thought about it, or doubted that my parents loved me. But my family now is super lovey-dovey. Which I very much enjoy. I like having a habit that means that I get some time, each day, to be close both physically and mentally with each of my daughters — a time that’s just for the two of us.

5. I send an email whenever there’s any possible reason to congratulate or compliment a friend.

I used to be very lax about this, but now I make it a very deliberate habit to reach out whenever I have an excuse. For instance, I walked by a friend’s townhouse the other day, and it had a gorgeous arrangement of pumpkins–so I sent an email. A friend’s book got an award, so I sent an email. These little gestures make a difference, over time.

The thing is, we have can have the very best of intentions — but never get around to giving that good-morning kiss or sending that friendly email.  And that’s where habits can help.

Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of making decisions and using our self-control. When something’s important to us, and we want it to happen frequently, making it into a habit means that it does happen, and without a lot of fuss.

What habits have you adopted, that have strengthened your habits?

To get more ideas about some helpful habits to follow, and even more, to get ideas about how to change your habits, check out my (bestselling) book, Better Than Before. Everything is revealed! It turns out that it’s not that hard to change your habits — once you know what to do.

3 Bad Habits that I Use with My Puppy.

As I’ve mentioned, we got a new puppy — he’s an adorable five-month-old black cockapoo named Barnaby. 

He’s sleeping at my feet right now. He has a special dark corner under my desk where he likes to hang out.

It took me a lot of hard thinking to decide whether or not to get a dog — you can listen to me talk about it with my sister here — and I’m so happy we did get a dog.

Beforehand, though, I was adamant that we would spend a lot of time and effort to make sure that he had very, very good doggy manners. Better for him, better for us.

But I must confess, as much as I love habits, and as much as I’ve studied how to form habits — after all, I wrote a whole book, Better Than Before, about the twenty-one strategies we can use to master our habits — I’ve fallen into three bad puppy habits.  (I say “I” but these apply to my whole family, actually.)

1.  I let him jump on the furniture.

Before we got him, I swore this would be an ironclad rule. But the thing about dogs and habits — you need to be consistent. And we’re just not consistent about not letting him jump up.

2.  I don’t practice enough with various commands.

I do work on “touch,” but how long has it been since I worked on “stay” or “look?” My younger daughter is the best of all of us at keeping up with this. Related: when we’re walking, and I want to drag Barnaby away from that savory bit of trash on the ground, instead of using “touch,” or even more advanced, working on “leave it,” I just drag him away with the leash.

3. I let him jump on people to greet them..

It’s just so sweet to see how excited he is to say hello to people (though the puppy “excited urination” thing is a bit of a drag). And people want to say hello back. I feel like a killjoy when I try to get him to keep four paws on the ground. Even though I know that what’s cute when he’s a puppy may be far less cute when he’s fully grown, or if a person is scared of dogs, etc.

The fact is, dog-training is really people-training! Which I knew before we even got Barnaby.

We do have good habits, too, though. We never feed him from the table, and he almost never has “people” food at all. We keep regular hours for food, water, and walks, which I know is good for dogs.

But as much as I intellectually know about habits, and despite the dozens of books about dogs that I’ve read (you can see a short reading list here) , it’s just hard to stick with these things, every time. At least for my family. And I’m an Upholder.

Do you have any habits that you swore you wouldn’t have, before you got a dog? Any tips for me?