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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Consider combining these strategies. For example, start a group to discuss resolutions. If you want to read more, consider joining or forming a book group.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.