How to make and keep resolutions (New Year’s or otherwise)

When it comes to New Years resolutions, there are two camps: those who use January 1 as a jump off point to accomplish goals and kick-start challenges, and those who think it’s silly and pointless to come up with a resolution just because it’s a new year—the latter group feeling that if you have an important enough goal, you’ll start it anytime, not waiting for an arbitrary date to get going. I get it – there’s plenty of evidence out there that New Years resolutions don’t stick; any hard-core gym goer is used to the seasonal rush of folks at the gym in January, only to see it trickle off again in March or so. However, I still think that any goal setting is a good thing, no matter what it is that gets you started. If the promise of a new year motivates you to work on a goal, good for you!

Now, I’m not exactly the most disciplined person in the world (I can count on both hands how many times I’ve woken up before 7 am, and I’ve yet to turn down dessert, ever) but I have a bit of experience with the whole goal-setting thing. Although I’ve set a couple goals I have yet to achieve—I still can’t parle francais for the life of me—I’ve accomplished a couple good ones here and there, and here are my thoughts for how to stick to a goal without it feeling like self-inflicted torture. This applies to anything: getting in shape, saving money, spending more time with family—whatever you want to focus on. My two cents:

  • Make your goal tangible. This one’s pretty big. Human beings thrive on rules, definable tasks and goals—which is why no one really achieves goals like, “I wanna lose some weight,” or “I need to call my parents more.” Whether it’s in your head or written down somewhere, spend some time thinking about what you REALLY want, as specific as you can be: “I want to squat 200 pounds,” or “I want to run a 10k in three months,” or “I will only buy Starbucks twice a week,” Will give you something you can plan and prepare for. It also proves to yourself that it’s something you really want, because you can define it.
  • Create incentives. You’d think the end goal (weight loss, event, trip, new skill, whatever) would be enough, but it rarely is. Again, if this were so, everyone would be able to lose weight easily, just thinking about how great it will be to flaunt their slim bod or feel healthier. Those goals are often too far-reaching to change our day to day behavior, so it helps to create smaller incentives that help keep you motivated. Here’s a great example: if you want to start bringing healthier lunches to work instead of eating out every day, why not buy yourself a beautiful little lunch bag to transport it in, like this fancy leather satchel from Marie Turnor? (A bit decadent, maybe, but it’d work for me!). If you want to practice yoga every day, maybe plan to watch your fave show on Netflix after every practice, or get yourself a latte after class. Creating immediate positive associations with your tasks will help you keep doing them.

Love. This. Bag.

  • Make yourself accountable. Some dedicated people don’t need outside help to accomplish goals, but most of us find it easier to have a bit of external accountability. This could be as easy as announcing your goal of running a 5k on Facebook, or even weekly emails with a friend who’s pursuing a healthier diet. When I prepared for my bodybuilding competition, I sent weekly updates to my trainer – so if I cheated or slacked off, she’d know. Communicating your goal to the outside world definitely makes it more real, and no one likes to disappoint the people who are counting on/encouraging you.
  • Pick a goal you actually want to accomplish. This one sounds like common sense, but really think about it. So many of us consider self improvement goals to be things we “really should do” – lose a couple pounds, keep our closet clean, take the stairs instead of the elevator—but do you really, really want to do it? Will it make you a better, happier person? If we don’t choose a goal we truly value and find important, we won’t really have our hearts in the task and may even come to resent the project, rather than learn and grow from it. Maybe you really want to get a bit healthier and lose weight, but you hate running – awesome, try CrossFit! Maybe you want to find some inner peace but can’t stand yoga—take up knitting, or try self-directed meditation. There are always more ways than one to reach a goal. Take some time to figure out the one that works for you, so you enjoy your journey.
  • Have fun! Stop talking, go do it, have fun, be awesome. And let us know your goals in the comments!

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