The Science of Willpower

Secrets for self-control without suffering

Four Secrets of Creating Change

A makeover for your goals and strategies for change.

This January, I did a New Year's Resolution makeover for a reader of O! The Oprah Magazine. The "makeover-ee" had a long history of setting and abandoning goals, and the magazine called me in to help her revamp her strategies for change.

You can read the whole article by journalist Lauren Dzubow --and all the makeover details -- on the magazine's website.

Excerpted below are four key secrets to a fool-proof resolution.

1. Want it for yourself. Don't choose a resolution because someone else wants you to change, or because you think you should do it. In general, the mind-set of self-improvement--that there's something wrong with you that needs to be fixed--is not constructive. New Year's resolutions should be about being good to yourself.

2. Be specific but flexible. The steps to achieving your resolution are important because they give you something specific to do and monitor. But leave room to revise these steps if they turn out to be unsustainable or don't lead to the benefits you expected.

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3. Get support. Sometimes we equate New Year's resolutions with personal willpower, but you don't have to achieve your goals alone. What information or resources do you need? Who can help you? Can you find a group that supports the change you want to make?

4. Focus on the why before the what. Before you commit to your resolution, make sure you appreciate the big-picture goal that's driving it. What do you want in your life? What would help you achieve better health and greater happiness?

For more advice on how to create positive change and succeed at resolutions, see this video of a talk I gave on 5 Reasons People Abandon New Year's Resolutions (And How Not to Fall for Them).

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a health psychologist at Stanford University.

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