Gretchen Rubin

Six Tips to Hold Yourself Accountable for Keeping Your Resolutions.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips to hold yourself accountable for keeping your resolutions.

One thing I’ve discovered from doing my happiness project is – no surprise – it’s easy to make a resolution, but it’s not always easy to keep a resolution.

I’m fascinated by the question: what allows people to keep resolutions? Why does one couch potato suddenly decide to start going to the gym, and then goes regularly for years, while another similar couch potato just can’t stick with a program? Why does my sister keep resolving to learn to cook, but never follows up? Why can’t I make myself floss regularly? And yet I've been able to keep my one-sentence journal.

The first step is to make a concrete, well-directed resolution. Samuel Johnson wrote a prayer that includes the line, “O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions.” At first, this puzzled me. I understood praying for the strength to keep resolutions, but why make the special request to be able to “resolve aright”? Now I understand that resolving aright is very important. (See #1 below.)

The second step is to hold yourself accountable. This is enormously important. The constant review of resolutions, and the knowledge that you are being held accountable for sticking to them, makes a huge difference.

I found this myself, doing my own happiness project, and I know that it’s true for other people. Last night, I was talking to some of the leaders of happiness-project groups around the country, and they all agreed that accountability was essential -- this point was stressed particularly by the leader of the Washington, DC group, the indefatigably positive Dani.

So how do you hold yourself accountable? Here are some strategies that have worked for me:

1.Frame your resolution in concrete actions. If you resolve to “Get more joy out of life” or “Embrace the present,” it’s hard to hold yourself accountable. It’s easier to be answerable for a specific action like “Spend at least one hour a week hiking” or “Sit in a chair for fifteen minutes every day, with no distractions.”

2.Keep a chart. Having made a resolution, you have to check yourself in some way. I print out a new copy of my Resolutions Chart each month and carry it around with me. At least once each day, I review and score my resolutions. (See below if you'd like to take a look at my chart.)

3.Use the Happiness Project Toolbox. If you want to keep your Resolutions Chart online, use the Toolbox – the Resolutions Tool and the Group Resolutions Tool are two very helpful tools. While you’re there, you can also add things to your Inspiration Board, share ideas to the Happiness Hacks – and look to see what other people are doing!

4.Join a group. Even more useful than keep a chart is meeting with real live people who will press you to keep your resolutions. Mutual accountability is extraordinarily effective, as demonstrated by groups like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous. Each leader of a happiness-project group agreed that it as a key motivator for keeping resolutions. That’s why I think that launching or joining a happiness-project group is a great way to boost happiness. You have the happiness of meeting with friends, whether new or old, plus the happiness of keeping your resolutions. If you want a starter kit for launching your own happiness-project group, click here.

5.Tell people what you’re doing. At the very least, tell your family about the resolutions that you’re trying to keep. Studies showed that people trying to make life changes, such as losing weight, were more likely to succeed if they told their families what they were doing.

6.Consider combining these strategies. Resolve with a friend to use the Happiness Project Toolbox. Start a group to discuss resolutions. Use the Group Resolutions Tool to challenge friends, colleagues, relative to keep a resolution with you. (It occurs to me that I'm pushing the Happiness Project Toolbox hard here, but the thing is, I designed it to help people keep their resolutions, so it really is supposed to help.)

Here are more tips on sticking to your resolutions, if you're interested.

I’ve had great success with dozens of my resolutions, and yet I still don’t floss regularly. Any advice on another strategy to try?

* Speaking of the DC Happiness Project Group, here's an account by one of its members of why he joined and how it has helped him keep his resolution (to eat better -- a resolution familiar to many of us!)

* 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. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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