Are New Year's resolutions cursed? Somehow your plans of losing weight or staying more organized never seem to last more than a month at best. But it's not always your fault! Things at work got crazy! Your aunt got sick! Surely the universe conspires against you annually.

It may be infuriating, but it's hardly unpredictable. Even if the stars were not aligned against you, your resolutions were probably too vague, and thus your plans were likely designed for failure. It may sound easy to make a new year's resolution stick - just do it, they say! - but having unjustified confidence is almost certain to lead to failure.

It doesn't have to be this way. Too many people view New Year's Resolutions as all or nothing propositions, and abandon ship at the first mistake. You can make a specific, realistic, sustainable plan to achieve even ambitious New Year's Resolutions. Here's how:

1. Develop Resolutions Carefully

Review prior new years' resolutions you've made. What did you do well, and what didn't work. Why? Don't make a list of generalized goals like "lose weight" or "get organized." Be highly specific. Say, "Lose 10 pounds by May," or, "Attack kitchen clutter 20 minutes per day." Categorize your goals for a big picture view, to ensure your life will not get out of balance by pursuing these aims.

2. Develop a Realistic Action Plan

This is the key step. You need to set yourself up for success before you even begin. Examine your goal, and break it into manageable pieces. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds by May, you need to lose 2 pounds per month. That's a realistic goal. Now, how can you get there? Start gently. Week 1 in January, reduce the sugar and cream in your coffee, and walk 5 minutes a day. Week 2, cut out soda and walk 10 minutes a day. It sounds less daunting that way, and that will allow you to actually make these changes a sustainable part of your life. Baby steps to success!

3. Find an Accountability Partner

When I lost 50 pounds, one of the most critical tools was the daily calorie email accountability group I set up. Every night, a small group would email an accounting of that day's calorie consumption, and a record of the number of many steps taken and stairs climbed. It helped keep me on track during the day, and made me happy and encouraged as I watched by friends succeed as well.

4. Edit and Adjust

Even if it's unlikely that the universe is conspiring against you, things do change, and you need to be flexible. Maybe the scheduling of a new early morning meeting means you no longer get your usual 10-minute walk before work. Ok, do it at lunch instead. Keep forgetting to do your stretches in the afternoon? Write it down on your schedule, and set up a daily reminder. Didn't achieve your goal of 4 pounds by the end of February? All is not lost, so whatever you do, don't give up. All plans need tweaking before they are perfected.

5. Plan for Celebrations!

Plan for celebrating accomplishments throughout the year. If you feel some winter doldrums coming along in early March, take a look back and count the number of changes you've made to your daily life and the mini-goals you've accomplished along the way. You'll be pleasantly surprised at all the success you've had. So celebrate! Give yourself a day at the spa, take a weekend day to binge your favorite show, or go see the movie everyone's been talking about. Just make sure that your celebrations don't conflict with your goals.

Published on: Dec 29, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.