It’s a sad and familiar tale: Each year, millions of us make New Year’s resolutions to be better people. Then we give in to our regular selves by January 6. Yet some people do succeed in building good habits and making them stick. What do they know about resolutions that the rest of us don’t?
Here are a few tips to help you stick with whatever transformation you hope to pull off this year:
Building new habits is hard. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with who claimed success focused primarily on one resolution at a time. It’s better to quit smoking this year, and lose weight next year, and actually be a svelte non-smoker at the end of 2015, then to aim for both and be neither next December.
Leanne Sowul, a writer who lives in Hudson Valley, New York, wanted her family to eat healthier in 2013. So she resolved to do very specific things: "I set a reminder on my computer every Sunday to cut up salad veggies for lunches and make bags of healthy trail mix for snacks on the run," she says. She resolved to keep veggies on the top shelf of the fridge as a visual reminder to eat them. She also set a goal to learn 10 to 12 new healthy recipes, and "I accomplished that pretty quickly." None of this took much time or effort, "but it worked—we are all much more conscious of healthy eating than we were at the start of the year."
Need to do something specific to make your goal happen? Put it on the calendar. Joshua Wold of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, resolved to run a marathon in 2013. "I started researching and planning for it in January, and printed out a full schedule in February. Then from February to May I would cross off a day on my schedule in red marker, to clearly show my progress." He finished the training plan, and finished the marathon. "My time wasn’t pretty," he notes, but "it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had."
Brian Willett, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, resolved last January to lose 10 lbs by June, 2013. The only problem? "I got to April and guess what, I had lost about 0," he says. So he changed approaches. "I downloaded an app [My Fitness Pal] that helped me count calories. Once I started doing that things changed." He also upped the exercise and "Long story short, I have now lost about 30 lbs and I am a full blown runner." Numbers are motivational.
Kate Reading, a software engineer in Washington, D.C., stuck with her resolution to run by mixing things up. She shoots to do 3-4 workouts per week, with some focused on speed. She signed herself up for several races in 2013, and kept a running log with a goal of hitting 1000 miles for the year. She also built a community of running friends. "Having varied goals and rewards kept me motivated," she says. It also helps her continue to feel successful when things don’t go as planned. She finished a fall marathon 30 seconds slower than a spring marathon despite all her additional training. "It could be disappointing, but I made a conscious decision to call the run a victory anyway. That race was the first one I’ve ever run with a friend, and it was her first marathon ever. And having that kind of experience with a friend that I became so close to over months of early Saturday morning runs ... that can’t be considered a failure," she says.
Rachel Malcolm, a freelance editor in London, reports that in January, 2010, "I decided to watch 52 French films in the 52 weeks of the coming year." She started a blog to review her films. "I didn't expect anyone to read the blog but I’ve maintained it ever since and have now watched and reviewed well over 100 films," she says. The comments helped keep her motivated, and "the more films I watched and the more reviews I wrote, the more I enjoyed it. Picking something finite, measurable, and that I was genuinely interested in made it feel much more like a new and beneficial element of my life than a chore."
Resolutions you keep to yourself are easy to chuck when life gets busy. Having an accountability partner or group can bump your goals back to the top of the list. Amy Showalter, of The Showalter Group in Cincinnati, Ohio, resolved to pursue trademarks on some of her products. "What kept me on track is telling friends and colleagues that I’m working on it. Then, when they ask me about it, I am too embarrassed to say I ‘haven’t gotten around to it’ so that forces me to report my progress," she says. "Verbally expressing my goals to those who care about me and will remember to ask is the difference. You can tell a ton of people but they won’t remember. Who you share your goals with matters."
Have you ever kept a New Year’s resolution? What kept you on track?