The secret to keeping your New Year’s resolutions — is there a magic formula?

From articles in the New York Times today, Alex Williams's New Year, New You? Nice Try and Ken Belson's As Resolutions Go, Spending Less May Actually Stick, I gleaned some statistics about resolutions-keeping:

---According to one survey, the top three resolutions made by Americans in 2009 are:
1. Losing weight -- 20%
2. Quitting smoking -- 16%
3. Spending less -- 12%
---About 80% of people who make resolutions stop keeping them by mid-February.
---Two-thirds of dieters gain back any lost weight within a year.
---Many people make and break the same resolution year after year.

These facts are pretty discouraging. Does that mean it's pointless to make a new year's resolution? I don't think so. You'll never succeed unless you try, so you might as well try.

If you really want change, THINK about it, plan it, probe it, keep yourself accountable, have a plan -- don't just reflexively say "This year I'm really going to learn to cook" and expect it to happen.

For example, in my case, I have a huge number of resolutions related to my happiness-project, and those I've managed to keep, more or less, or I've decided to discard them. The Resolutions Chart (see below) played a huge role in my ability to keep them, because I framed my resolutions as manageable, concrete tasks; I scored myself to give myself accountability; by reviewing the chart each day, I kept my resolutions uppermost in my mind.

Now, of course, my entire Happiness Project is based on resolutions-keeping, so I'm biased. I love resolutions. But it's true, they're hard to keep. I often comfort myself with the thought of the patron saints of resolutions -- Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson, and St. Therese of Liseiux -- who talked often about how they failed to live up to their resolutions. But they still thought it was a worthwhile endeavor.

Ben Franklin wrote: “…on the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet as I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it.”

My New Year's resolution for 2009? To entertain more. Somehow, this resolution didn't make it onto my official happiness-project Resolutions Chart. Big mistake. I've made and broken this resolution for at least seven years. Ah, but this year will be different...

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One of the great pleasures of my vacation was that I got to do a lot of reading. If you are Narnia/C.S. Lewis fan, I highly recommend Laura Miller's The Magician's Book. If you love reading a good novel -- one that is beautifully written, has fascinating characters, and a lot of suspense -- I highly recommend Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I have to admit, this was a novel that reviewers kept saying was terrific, and I developed a kind of aversion to it. Why does that happen to me? I have no idea. But guess what, it really IS a fantastic novel.

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Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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