Setting New Year's resolutions is fun. Keeping them is hard.
As a therapist, I've observed what helps make resolutions stick.
I've seen countless people succeed at losing weight, getting out of debt, improving their health, and increasing their grades. I've also witnessed many people give up on their goals.
In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton found that 23% of people quit working on their resolution just two weeks into the new year. And only 19% of resolution setters stuck to their goals over the long haul.
So what's the difference between those individuals who abandon their goals and those who achieve them?
Here are seven things that will help your resolution stick this year.
1. Create a measurable goal.
Don't bother creating a vague resolution like, "I want to get healthier," or "I want to be happier." Some days you'll feel as though you're reaching your goals, but other days you won't--and an intangible, vague goal will cause you to feel lost.
Create measurable goals like, "I want to go to the gym three nights per week," or "I want to see my friends twice a month." Then, you'll have a clear target to aim for.
2. Identify clear action steps.
You can't lose weight or get out of debt without actions steps that will help you get there. Create a plan that includes objectives that will create change.
Whether you are going to eat a salad for lunch every day or you're going to stop eating out until you've paid off your credit card bill, commit to taking action that will help you get closer to your goal.
3. Set yourself up for success.
It's easy to feel motivated early on in the process. But after a week or two, your motivation will naturally wane.
To prepare yourself for that dip in motivation, set yourself up for success well in advance. Make bad habits inconvenient and good habits convenient.
Store the cookies in a hard to reach place. Keep your workout gear packed and ready to go. You'll be more likely to do things that feel easy, even when your motivation declines.
4. Plan for obstacles.
There will always be temptations and obstacles that could easily derail you from your resolution. It may be an invitation to dinner that could blow your budget--or your diet. Or it may come in the form of a special project at work that leaves you with fewer hours to devote to your goals.
Think about the obstacles you're likely to encounter in the first weeks after establishing your resolution. Consider how you'll navigate these challenges, and develop a plan.
Planning ahead for the probable challenges can help you feel equipped to handle the unexpected obstacles that crop up along the way as well.
5. Start when you're ready.
There's no need to launch your resolution on January 1st. In fact, starting on January 1st might put you at a disadvantage.
Start working on your goal when you're ready. That's not to say you need to wait until you feel fully confident before starting (that may never happen). But make sure you're committed to the goal, and you've thought through what you'll need to do and how you're going to do it.
Whether that means you start on January 3rd or you wait until mid-Spring, don't create a resolution just because you feel pressured to do so in January.
6. Track your progress.
You need to know if you're headed in the right direction. So it's important to find a way to track your progress.
Use an app or a calendar to check off the days you work on your goal. Or create a chart, spreadsheet, or graph that helps you visualize your progress.
When you're able to see how you're doing and the steps you're taking, it can remind you how far you've come. Reviewing your effort can also help you stay on course when it feels as though you're not making any headway (which is common).
Keep in mind that progress doesn't always come in a straight line. Sometimes, things get a little worse before they get better--but this doesn't mean you should give up.
7. Learn from your mistakes.
Mistakes are part of the process. But too often people think one mistake means they're destined to fail.
When you make a mistake--like you skip the gym for a week, or you make a ridiculous impulse purchase you can't return--learn from your misstep.
In fact, one study showed that people who were successful in maintaining their resolutions tended to slip up at least 14 times. The vast majority of these successful individuals said they'd found ways to turn their mistakes into opportunities to grow stronger and become better.
Commit to Making This Your Year for Lasting Change
If you've struggled to keep your resolutions in the past, don't lose hope. With a little extra planning, you can change your habits--and ultimately change your life. Commit to making this year the year that your resolution is going to stick.