The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

Trying To Go from Couch Potato to Regular Runner (or Whatever)? 6 Tips for Sticking to Your Resolution.

What Allows People To Keep Resolutions?

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One thing I’ve discovered from doing my happiness project is – no surprise – it’s easy and fun 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, in my case at least, 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.)

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The second step is to hold myself accountable. This is enormously important. The constant review of resolutions, and the knowledge that I'm being held accountable for sticking to them, makes a huge difference. I know that this holds true for other people, as well.

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. (Email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com if you'd like to take a look at my chart, as an example.) This method works if you like to use old-fashioned pen and paper; if you prefer to do such things online, you can...

3.Use the Happiness Project Toolbox. If you want to keep your Resolutions Chart online, use the Toolbox – the Resolutions Tool and the Group Resolutions Tool are two very helpful tools. While you’re there, you can also add things to your Inspiration Board, share ideas to the Happiness Hacks – and look to see what other people are doing! Which is addictive.

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. Do it every day. It's counter-intuitive, but I've found that when I'm trying to get myself to adopt a new habit, it helps me to do that thing every day, instead of most days -- which would seem easier. For example, I blog six days a week (okay, I do get one day off), and I think that made it much easier for me to get into the swing of blogging. So if you're trying to start going for more walks, say, try going for a walk every single day.

6.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. 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. (Email me grubin at gretchenrubin dot com if you want the starter kit for launching your own happiness-project group).

Here are more tips on sticking to your resolutions, if you're interested.

I’ve had great success with dozens of my resolutions, and yet I still can't manage to put my clothes away nicely every night. Any advice on a strategy to try?

* When I heard about The 52 Weeks -- two friends resolve to try something new every week for a year -- of course I had to check it out!

* For a copy of my personal Resolution Chart, to see how it works, or the starter-kit for people launching a happiness-project group, email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com. Just write "chart" or "starter kit" in the subject line.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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