Ondrejk/Wikimedia Commons, open content license
Source: Ondrejk/Wikimedia Commons, open content license

Nothing will work unless you do. ~Maya Angelou

Studies show, New Year’s resolutions do indeed help us make life changes...sometimes. If we learn how to make them correctly. But therein lies the problem. A few minutes of attempting to sift through all the self-help suggestions and contradicting how-to articles, one would be tempted to give up before the ball drops! So we’ve compiled a list of some of the best advice when it comes to making resolutions…on New Year’s Eve or otherwise.

There is a ton of information out there on how we can change our behaviors and succeed at goals. Let’s focus on picking a few success habits that sound realistic and attainable. After all, there isn’t one right way or singular rule for making resolutions succeed.…except that you have to work hard and you have to start somewhere.

So that brings us to the start: The significance of New Year’s as a start date for a behavior change. It is a commonly accepted myth that January 1st is the perfect starting point for a resolution. For the most part, it’s bunk. Yet, for some people, it works. If January 1st feels like a great starting point and you’re truly prepared to start on that day, then by all means do it. But why wait until January 1st to treat yourself to changes that make you happier and healthier? Why not December 18th or June 2nd? If you are someone who takes pleasure in celebrating significant dates and anniversaries, consider starting your resolution on a day that’s important to you and has a permanent positive association—like the day you got accepted into college or the day you were born.

It’s healthy to conduct regular assessments of our behaviors, habits, and choices. That way if something’s not working we can address problems as they arise rather than dismissing them with an attitude of, “Well, this year’s shot anyway; guess I’ll screw around for a few months and then start over next New Year’s.” That’s a doomsday attitude that associates New Year’s with the end of all things fun and the beginning of a year of drudgery.

One of the biggest problems with starting a resolution on January 1st is that most of us don’t prepare properly ahead of that day. According to the authors of Changing for Good, ‘Preparation’ is an essential stage for succeeding with our change goals. Even though one might look in the mirror today and feel motivated to start a diet immediately, has the necessary preparation been conducted? Do we have the tools, knowledge, success plan, and support team in place?

Here are some strategies for preparing for your next successful resolution:

Pull A Weed By Its Roots. Stopping a bad habit? It is essential that you understand the root cause of the behavior. If you don’t address the psychological attachment to the problem, any behavior changes will be short lived because the psychological need will still be there waiting to be fulfilled. Pull the problem by the roots and fill the hole with a healthier alternative.

Prepare Now, Commit When Truly Ready. This part is tricky because you don’t want to get stuck in preparation mode and procrastinate on starting your resolution. Yet when you have the information, resources, tools, plans, backup plans, and support systems in place you’ll be better equipped to handle challenges that arise along the way. Make a plan that gives yourself time to prepare, yet also challenges you to have your preparations completed by a meaningful start date.

Visualize Success AND Failure. Do you see yourself sticking to your new habit or will it probably taper off after a few weeks? Visualize how this could potentially play out so that you can make contingency plans in advance. How about scheduling a resolution re-commitment ceremony in your calendar 3 weeks from your start date?

The Snowball Effect. It helps immensely when we can see the fruits of our labors early on. So start off with smaller and more manageable goals, rather than overwhelming yourself with huge commitments. For example, start by making a goal that you can achieve within the next two or three weeks. By resolving to reach smaller goals, you’ll sooner see successes. Experiencing successes keeps you motivated to add more goals…resulting in more successes. You get the picture.

Is Your Resolution SMART? Your goals should be specific and measurable. It’s not very effective to say, “I want to lose weight this year so I’ll start going to the gym more.”  Try writing your first weight loss target in your wellness journal or calendar: “My goal is to lose 4 pounds in February, which breaks down to one pound a week. Starting today I am going to the gym every Monday and Thursday after work at 6:00pm. Right now I am going to put my gym bag in the trunk of my car.” When Thursday arrives, this specific plan is already in place, the preparations have been made, and the routine has been automated. Now, enlist a workout buddy to hold you accountable and you’re well on your way.

Which days of the week and time of day do you have peak energy and willpower? Schedule your resolution actions for then. Don’t go to the gym after work if that’s when you feel most depleted. You’ll associate the gym with being tired, hungry, and cranky.

Reward success. Reward the successes you’ve achieved through hard work rather than punishing yourself for setbacks and missed goals. Guilt, regret, and punishment may get your butt out the door for the first couple weeks but they aren’t great motivators over the long term. We inevitably feel bad from constantly beating ourselves up and call the whole thing off. As you prepare for your resolution, figure out what your rewards will be. The key here is that the rewards must be intrinsically meaningful to you.

A good friend of mine uses a unique reverse-psychology reward. If she misses her scheduled day at the gym, she has to donate $10 to the political campaign of a politician she dislikes. It’s both a punishment and a reward and it works!

While positive reinforcement is usually the focus with this kind of advice, a healthy dose of reality can be as or more motivating. Ask yourself, what is the consequence of not changing my habits? How would NOT changing impact my body, my lifespan, my loved ones, my career? Write an impactful letter to yourself containing all of these factors and read it whenever your motivation is low.

Reframe Setbacks. The moment you realize you hit a setback is the moment you can recommit to your original goal. Acknowledge how you could have done things differently and then move on from it. Immediately. The setback is now in the past so don’t dwell on it. Reframe it as a growth opportunity.

Reframe Mindset. Speaking of reframing, you might just need to reframe your mindset at the onset of this process. Do you have a fixed or growth mindset? If you want to grow as a person but have a history of having an inflexible fixed mindset and struggle with life change, resolutions could prove very challenging. Consider reading the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Enlist Help. If you’re not good at praising, rewarding, and reminding yourself, enlist a resolution buddy (or buddies). Eh hem, your favorite career-life coach, perhaps? Set up a check-in system where they email, text, and call you periodically. This keeps you accountable to someone and that’s helpful when you’re tempted to slack off.

Tell your accountability partner in advance all of your favorite go-to excuses so they can call you out on them!

Some advice givers tell us to take make our resolutions public, like an announcement on Facebook. Others say that can set us up for feeling shame if we don’t reach the goals we announced. This one’s your call. Would an announcement keep you motivated because you don’t want to fail publicly? Or will your goals be kept between you and a supporter or two?

Refill Your Will. Renowned psychologist Roy Baumeister warns, “Each person’s supply of willpower is limited. And, as the “power” aspect of willpower implies, it’s a form of energy. It gets depleted when you use it.” Starting a new behavior or quitting an old one takes willpower, of which, according to Baumeister, we have a limited supply. If we establish too many goals requiring willpower, we’ll become mentally and physically exhausted. We’ll fail. Remember, start with one manageable piece and add more later. Again, seeing success will help refill your will [i.e. the snowball effect].

Refill Your Cup. Know what fills up your resilience cup so that you have an ample supply of mental, physical, and spiritual energy to drink from. Resilience helps you bounce back from setbacks and clear hurdles. Check out my Psychology Today article on the 10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People and by my colleague, author Karen Horneffer-Ginter, 25 Ways To Boost Resilience.

Sound like a lot of work? Let’s not sugarcoat it, success in all forms takes a lot of work and willpower. As psychologist John Norcross says, “Take resolutions seriously or don’t take them at all.” 

[This article was adapted from an interview with the author published at Textbooks.com]

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Sources and Suggested Reading:

Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions by John Norcross

Willpower, Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister

Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by Prochaska et. al.

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

http://qz.com/162534/a-harvard-professor-reveals-how-to-make-new-years-r...

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/opinion/sunday/the-problem-with-positi...

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevemeyer/2014/11/18/your-new-years-resolut...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98738130

http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

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Brad Waters, MSW specializes in working with non-traditional career seekers, entrepreneurs, creatives, introverts, Millennials, and corporate career changers. Brad helps people clarify their career direction and take action on life transitions. Request a free consultation call at BradWatersCoaching.com

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Copyright, 2015 Brad Waters. This article may not be reproduced or published without permission from the author. If you share it, please give author credit and do not remove embedded links.

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