How to make – and keep – a New Year’s Resolution
Who on earth wants to talk about how to make a New Year’s resolution?
You spent the days leading up to the new year stuffing your face with Christmas cookies. Or the stress of the holidays and all those family arguments kicked your smoking habit into overdrive.
Whatever your motivation, January is the perfect time to hit the reset button and get ready for your best year ever.
Follow these five tips, and you’ll make and keep a New Year’s resolution you can be proud of.
Tip #1: Ignore everything I just said
The best way to make and keep a New Year’s resolution is to choose something you actually want to achieve – not just something society tells you to do.
Don’t want to lose weight? Don’t.
Love your afternoon cigarette? Don’t kick the habit.
Because the bottom line is that if you don’t want to make a change, it certainly won’t stick.
Take a moment to think about what you want. Goals and resolutions don’t always have to be about kicking a bad habit.
It can be about taking up a good habit, or new hobby. In fact, picking up good, new habits can easily lead to kicking the bad ones without as much effort.
Ready to tackle that novel you’ve always dreamed of writing?
Always wanted to learn how to cook?
Fancy yourself a future wine expert, but haven’t gotten around to learning your noir from your grigio?
The time to do it is now.
What do you want to do this year?
Tip #2: Don’t set a goal (Yes, you read that right)
Goals are for losers. Or so says Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, in his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”
And while we’re not in the habit of taking life advice from cartoonists, this seems pretty solid.
Ever heard the phrase, “Ignore the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can”?
There are lots of things you can’t control when making a New Year’s resolution:
You can’t control how much weight you lose.
You can’t control whether your novel wins the National Book Award.
You can’t control whether you get that raise or promotion at work.
What you can control is what you do every day.
So when making a New Year’s resolution, focus on things like:
“I will exercise for 30 minutes every day.”
“I will write 500 terrible words a day.”
“I will drink water instead of eating candy.”
In other words:
Set up a repeatable system and forget about your goals.
Tip #3: Find motivation
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a system for writing jokes:
He gets a big calendar and hangs it on the wall in his office. Then he places a big X on the days when he writes a new joke. As he sees the days fill up with Xs, he realizes that he doesn’t want to break the chain. He wants every day to have an X on it.
So… he writes a new joke every day.
External motivators like Jerry’s calendar can be extremely powerful.
Studies have shown that workplaces with motivational posters that display words like, “Success” – or even simple images of a strong athlete running a race – inspire people to higher performance. Jump on over to Pinterest and search for some motivational images for your dream board.
Jerry Seinfeld’s calendar serves the same purpose. It’s a visual representation of his goal.
But don’t just copy Jerry. What motivates you?
For many of us, fear of loss is more powerful than hope for gain. Especially when it comes to our finances.
So, why not put some money on the line?
Give $100 (or $50, or whatever you can afford that will hurt) to your best friend and tell her she can’t give it back until you’ve spent a month keeping your resolution.
That’s right. A month.
Because studies have shown this is the perfect amount of time for a habit to form. Anything less, and you are in danger of going back to your old ways. But if you can make it to 30 days?
You’re well on your way to keeping that New Year’s Resolution for good.
Tip #4: Timing Matters
When you keep your New Year’s resolution is just as important as what and how.
Experts say that there is a natural rhythm to the day, and we perform best when we follow it.
For most of us, our brain functions better in the morning than in the afternoons, when we hit a “trough” that can be as hard on our attention and energy as being legally drunk!
The good news: we rebound in the early evening.
Social scientist Daniel Pink suggests tackling the hardest work first thing in the morning, when your mind is at its freshest. You’re rested, properly caffeinated, and ready to tackle your system before the day’s distractions pile up.
This is the time to work on your novel.
Or hit the gym.
Or solve that big problem at work.
Use the afternoon downtime for low-level tasks like checking your email. And be aware that this is the time when our willpower is at its weakest. So if you’re cutting out those cookies, be especially vigilant in the afternoon!
The early evening is when our energy picks up again and we enter a creative period. This is when you want to brainstorm or get creative with your cooking.
Obviously, sometimes our schedules are out of our control, and we can’t stress about the timing of our tasks. If you want to keep a New Year’s resolution, it’s better to do it than not—no matter the time of day.
But if you can’t keep your resolution at the “perfect” time, or you find that you’ve skipped a day?
You need Tip #5.
Tip #5: Be kind to yourself
Life’s too short to be mad at yourself for blowing your New Year’s resolution.
None of us lives in a perfect world, and sometimes the perfect plan gets shot to bits. That’s OK, and the sooner you accept that, the better.
Be kind to yourself.
Give yourself a day off if you need it. If things didn’t work out perfectly today, try again tomorrow. Sometimes all we need is a good night’s sleep and a brand new day to tackle our New Year’s resolution again.
But don’t let it throw you off your game.
Missed a day at the gym? No problem—but get back there first thing tomorrow.
Didn’t write 500 words on your novel today? Write them tomorrow.
The point of the New Year’s resolution isn’t to take all the fun out of life—it’s to make life better.
So if you didn’t get it done today, forgive yourself. And then get back on the horse.
Like Scarlett O’Hara says in Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.”