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My 1 Tip For Making Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

It's not what you resolve this new year, it's HOW you resolve it

Do you make New Year’s resolutions each January 1st only to find them a distant memory come February 1st? This year, instead of focusing on what you want to change, try focusing on how you are going to change it using implementation intentions. This is a big name for a fairly simple strategy: instead of making a vague resolution such as “get in shape”, make a concrete resolution that specifies where, when, and in what way you are going to implement your resolution.

Do you want to resolve to get in shape this year, and actually do it? Get specific with your resolution. Instead of saying “I’m going to start running” or even “I’m going to start lifting weight 3 time per week”, set out all the nitty gritty details: “At 6pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I am going to stop whatever I am doing, put on my running clothes and go for a 30 minute run,” or “After I finish my lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am going to put on tennis shoes and spend 20 minutes at the gym next to my office.”

At first, you’ll have to remember your resolution and make sure you rehearse your implementation intention, but after a few practices, your body will pick up the routine and the behavior should start being automatic.

This strategy for implementing goals has been shown to help people engage in a variety of healthy behaviors, such asstopping eating unhealthy snacks ("When I encounter an obstacle to healthy eating and I feel like having a snack, I’ll eat an apple instead”), controlling phobias (If I see a spider, I will stay relaxed and calm), and increasing the frequency of regular breast self-examinations in women.

The great thing about implementation intentions is that they can be applied to all of your resolutions. Want to get organized? Make a plan – “Every Saturday morning, before I get dressed, I will empty out one drawer or cupboard and throw away anything I’m not using”, or “Every night before I go to bed I will spend 5 minutes washing any dishes in the sink.” Want to live life to the fullest? Think about what that means for you and implement it. Do you love nature? Then tell yourself, “The first weekend of every month, I will go hiking in a regional park that I’ve never been to before.” Or if you’re into art, maybe you want to plan “The first Sunday of every month, I will visit a new museum or art gallery in the city.”

Make it doable – As great as implementation intentions are, they are only going to work if you make a plan that is doable. It’s better to start small. Stating “every morning at 4am I am going to run a marathon” is NOT a good way to ensure your goal of getting in shape is going to succeed. Likewise, telling yourself “every night I will do all the dishes and bleach the counters and mop the floors” is a good plan for making sure your kitchen stays messy for another year. You can always make your plan more difficult later, so begin with something that you know you can actually achieve. Five minutes of dishes each night is easy to work into the routine, and after it becomes automatic you can add another goal on top of it “after I spend five minutes washing dishes, I’ll sweep the floor.”

The bottom line: To give your resolutions a chance at success, make a plan and keep it simple, doable, and as detailed as possible.

Are you making resolutions this year? Are you good at keeping your resolutions? What strategies do you use?

One relevant article: Gollwitzer, P., & Brandstätter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73 (1), 186-199 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.73.1.186

More from Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D.
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