With the season of New Year’s resolutions upon us, there is one thing likely to be troubling many—if not all—of us. How do we make them stick? Below I have compiled 15 ways that will help you figure out how to stick to your resolutions.
Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions
The American Dictionary defines New Year’s resolutions as setting new goals for the year that’s starting. While no one knows how it all started, the act of making resolutions was already there four thousand years ago in Babylon.
While millions of people around the world do it every year, their success rate is quite low. While others choose to skip this goal-setting phenomenon, nearly half of the adults in America set at least one resolution.
The start of a new year creates a change in our mindset. We start thinking of what we could have achieved in the previous years. And a new year marks a new beginning.
There’s something amazing about making resolutions on the first day of the year. It’s the best time to look at the changes that we need to make to improve the quality of our lives.
When we make resolutions, we promise ourselves that we will improve our lives and make the new year a better one not only for ourselves but also for others in our environment. The fact that you make resolutions every year despite not achieving them indicates that you have hope and believe that you can change.
So, why do people make resolutions every year even though they won’t follow through on each of them? Some do it because it’s a tradition. Others do it because a new year offers a fresh start to do things differently.
The idea of improving ourselves is inspiring. A study conducted by the Journal of Clinical Psychology found out that people who set New Year’s resolutions are ten times more likely to start fresh and change their lives than people who don’t set these goals.
Some of the most popular resolutions include consuming nutritious foods, quitting alcohol and smoking, spending more time with friends and family, and exercising regularly.
How to Make New Year’s Resolution Stick
1. Prepare In Advance
Just because it’s called a “New Year’s” resolution doesn’t mean you can’t start preparing right now. Don’t just announce something at a party 15 seconds before you welcome the New Year, decide on which goal to pursue in advance, and start getting into the specifics.
2. Start Small
Don’t get overwhelmed by the need to “go big” because of the occasion. Be smart, start by taking small steps. When you get a better feel for what is manageable for you, you can gradually increase the difficulty and commitment.
3. Make A Detailed Action Plan
There’s no need to outline every second, just get the daily and weekly plans and goals down so you have something to work on. The best kind of plan, and the only one that truly works, is the one that gets improved as you go along.
If your goal is to quit excessive drinking or smoking, instead of outlining the daily actions, you can focus on things to do when you feel completely overwhelmed by the need to have a drink or smoke.
4. Turn It Into A Habit
Imagine this scenario, you wake up, wash your face, brush your teeth and then spend the next 30 minutes working towards your goal. Face unblinking, not even thinking about what you are doing because it has become second nature. This is probably the ultimate dream for anyone who has a goal. The way to get there is daily commitment.
Aim to set aside exactly the same time every day for working towards your goal. Try to never have a day where you do absolutely nothing. That can often lead to doubts and eventually giving up.
For people who want to quit bad habits, a good idea can often be to find a healthier replacement. When you would usually go out for a smoke, you can try to meditate, or drink ice-cold water, or do a mini-tea ceremony.
5. Set Specific Goals
Every year, we make resolutions to improve our productivity, lose weight, or read more books during the next year. However, one of the things that make it difficult for us to follow through to the end is focusing on ambiguous goals.
When you focus on ambiguous goals, you’ll have a hard time tracking your progress and knowing whether you have achieved them. To avoid this, you need to choose a specific goal and create a plan. For instance, if you want to lose weight, you need to determine how much you want to lose and what you have to do to lose it.
All your goals should be realistic. Having a clear specific goal will allow you to plan how you’ll reach your goal in the next few months.
6. Focus on One Resolution at A Time
While we are encouraged by the people around us to write down everything that we want to achieve in the next year, research studies conducted by Hertfordshire University show that picking one goal and focusing all your energies on it is better than spreading yourself too thin among several different objectives.
Working on several goals at the same time can be difficult because it takes time and effort to establish new behavioral patterns. When you focus on one goal, nothing will stop you from achieving it.
7. Avoid Repeating Mistakes
One of the best ways to keep your new year’s resolution is to avoid making the same resolutions every year. If you have tried it and failed in the past, your self-belief will be low.
If you choose to set the same goals that you’ve tried in recent years, you should take your time to evaluate your results. Which strategies enabled you to make progress? What prevented you from achieving your goals? With the right approach, you are likely to achieve your goals.
8. Don’t Tell People Too Soon, But When It’s Time, Shout It From The Tree Tops
One study  shows that by announcing your goals while they are still vague, you create a false sense of accomplishment, and because they are too vague to follow through on in a comprehensive manner, nothing happens.
So, while it’s important to leverage social accountability, don’t rush it. I know it can be exciting, but you should use that energy towards your goal, not towards telling other people about it.
9. Track Your Progress
First of all this is can be a way to determine what it is you are doing that has the largest effect. If you’re a believer in the Pareto principle  (the 80/20 rule), 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of the results. That means that some of what you do is likely superfluous.
So, if you track your progress, you can for example focus on different things and see what yields the best results, and then trim the fat. This is also a way to reinforce the fact that you are actually on your way to succeeding. And the longer you succeed, the harder it will be to suddenly give up.
10. Focus On The Positive
Perspective has a lot to do with how we experience our daily lives. If you choose to focus on the negative, you are much more likely to give up than if you manage to always focus on the progress you do make, instead of the set backs.
Even if you’re usually a Negative Nancy, you can trick yourself into becoming more positive by always making a big deal out of progress. Handwriting huge check marks next to every day you managed to stick to your goals, or mini-celebrating every minor milestone can be reminders to keep your focus where it should be.
11. Be Careful When You Reward Yourself
Focusing too much on progress can tempt people to be counterproductive. This seems to mainly be a problem with people whose aim is to lose weight. After making progress they would have a tendency to reward themselves with unhealthy foods, whereas rewarding yourself with a drink after staying sober seems a bit too obviously counterproductive.
The problem with not acknowledging your progress is that you will lose steam, possibly even giving up in the long run. So, celebrate your victories, but be careful that it’s not too counterproductive. If you’re losing weight, try rewarding yourself with your favorite things besides food: maybe a warm bath and some classical music, your favorite hobby, hanging out with friends, or watching a great movie.
12. Partner With Someone
Other than allowing you to escape the dreadful feeling of challenging something completely alone, there is another aspect to partnering. You can keep each other in check. When you’re attempting something on your own, it’s easy to be lenient and give yourself days off for no reason.
But a partner will see through that bull, and keep you on your toes, always moving forward. Of course, if you notice that he or she is becoming a bad influence, try to distance yourself as much as possible. And if he or she is doing better than you, don’t let that demotivate you. Awaken your competitive instincts and catch up!
13. Try Stick
Recent studies  have shown that people who have a money incentive lose more weight than those who don’t. And people have a tendency to prefer avoiding losses rather than the potential for making money. So, rather than promising yourself a treat if you succeed, you could try Stickk .
Stickk is a website where you end up giving money to a charity you disagree with if you should fail. Of course, how motivating this depends on the amount of money you choose to commit, as there is no standard amount. If you succeed, you get your money back to do with whatever you want.
14. Truly Believe You Can Do It
Many of you would argue that this should be the first step, but that’s not necessarily the case. I’ve seen people with no faith going through the motions, seeing some progress and then finally believing it was possible. In fact, I’ve been one of them as well.
Once you reach a point where you find yourself thinking, “Wow, I can really do this!” then it’s a lot easier to leverage that belief to commit harder to the goal you have set for yourself. That’s the reason why we start small and work our way up, instead of starting out failing and confirming doubts we had about our ability to push through.
15. Even If You Fail Once, Keep Going
It’s the second you admit failure and throw in the towel that you fail, and not a second before. It doesn’t matter if you caved and smoked one cigarette, as long as you get back on track. Never make a big deal about a small failure, it can really mess with your mojo.
I remember one time I caved and ate unhealthy food for one day and I almost completely gave up the idea of losing weight, defaulting into my old thinking where I would blame genetics and fate. There is still plenty of time left in the New Year. Don’t let your commitment go to waste by giving up early.
The ritual of setting resolutions doesn’t have to be a disappointment every year. Sometimes, the difference between succeeding and failing is choosing the right goal and using the best process to achieve it. You need to be flexible and kind with yourself and stay positive by celebrating the progress that you make every day.
Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com