The Science of Willpower

Secrets for self-control without suffering

Five Things You Can Do Instead of New Year’s Resolutions

Fresh alternatives to help you celebrate 2013 and get to your 2014 goals.

Tired of the traditional New Year’s resolution to lose weight, get fit, or get out of credit card debt?

Below are five fresh alternatives to help you celebrate yourself in 2013, and get to your goals in 2014.

1. Write yourself a letter from your future self, dated 1/1/2015. Imagine looking back at 2014, from a place of having achieved your most important goal for the year. In your letter, thank your present self for all you did to achieve your goals—and be specific. Or give yourself some compassionate advice from your wiser, 2015 self. Research shows that connecting to your future self in this way can help you make a difficult change and succeed at your goals.

2. List your favorite memories and triumphs of 2013, including the challenges you faced with courage or humor (even if things didn't turn out the way you hoped). Studies show that remembering your strengths increases future perseverance and willpower; and reminiscing about the past increases future happiness.

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3. Imagine the highlights of 2014. Make a list of at least 5 things to look forward to in the coming year, big or small. Anything from new episodes of a favorite TV show, a friend's wedding, taking your kid Trick-or-Treating for the first time, a trip you want to plan. Research shows that one of the best predictors of emotional health is the ability to anticipate and savor future pleasures.

4. Make a list of what you are grateful for in your life. Sure, New Year’s is a great time to think about what you’d like to change about your life. But you’ll be much happier if you first think about everything you’re grateful for. In fact, if you make a gratitude list first, you might be surprised how it shapes your wish list for 2014. You’ll have a clearer sense of what matters most to you, and a better vision of what you want the future to look like.

5. Make a 2014 commitment to someone else. Who says a New Year’s resolution has to be about what’s wrong with you, and how you should change? Honor something bigger than yourself with a financial commitment to a cause you care about. Most non-profit organizations will allow you to pledge a monthly donation for a one-year term. A side benefit: research shows that donating money boosts happiness and self-image--the perfect antidote to the self-critical resolution.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, (http://kellymcgonigal.com) is a psychologist at Stanford University. Her new book is The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist at Stanford University. Her latest book is The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. She is also the author of The Neuroscience of Change and Yoga for Pain Relief.

Follow Kelly on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kellymcgonigal or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kellymcgonigalauthor

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

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