The new year is approaching, and that means it’s the season for resolutions. I’m part of the 45% of Americans who usually make 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 projects, I’ve hit on some strategies for helping myself stick to resolutions. Making resolutions is fun and easy; keeping them is tough. After all, 24% of Americans fail on their resolution each year.
1. Most important: Be specific. People often make abstract resolutions: “Be more optimistic,” “Find more joy in life,” “Aim high.” Instead, look for a specific, measurable action. “Distract myself with fun music when I’m feeling gloomy,” “Watch at least one movie each week,” “Buy a plant for my desk” are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the top resolutions for 2012 included resolutions such as "Enjoy life to the fullest" and "Staying fit and healthy." What does this mean, exactly? Monday morning, what will you do differently?
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. (If you'd like to see a version of my Resolutions Chart, email me here.)
4. Hold yourself accountable. Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions. That’s why groups like AA and Weight Watchers are effective. There are many ways to hold yourself accountable; for example, I keep my Resolutions Chart. Or you might want to join or launch a Happiness Project group. You might hire a trainer or exchange daily updates with a friend. Accountability is one reason that #1 is so important. If your resolution is too vague, it’s hard to measure whether you’re keeping it. A resolution to “Eat healthier” is harder to track than “Eat salad for lunch three times a week.”
If you have an especially tough time keeping resolutions, try these strategies:
5. Consider making pleasant resolutions. We can make our lives happier in many ways. If you’ve been trying to get yourself to do something challenging, with no success, try resolving to “Go to more movies,” “Read more,” or whatever resolutions you’d find fun to keep. Seeing more movies might make it easier to keep going to the gym. It's a Secret of Adulthood: If you want to ask a lot from yourself, it helps to give a lot to yourself.
6. 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.
7. 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.
What else? What are some strategies you’ve discovered, to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions?
Top 2012 resolutions also included "Spend more time with family," "Help others in their dreams," and "Fall in love." These resolutions demonstrate the importance of relationships to our happiness. If you'd like to strengthen your relationships in 2013, consider taking the 21 Day Relationship Challenge. Read about it here.
For more about keeping your resolutions, check out my New York Times bestselling book about habits Better Than Before.