We all have goals we want to achieve and habits we want to change. Yet too often we stand in our own way, because we don’t know how to change our behavior in a sustainable, lasting manner. For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of the most effective tips and strategies to set a solid commitment and make a change for good. So without further ado, here are 18 tips to make resolutions that stick.
Tip #1 Link Goals to Values
The best goals are linked to choices about how you want to be in the world; the intrinsic qualities of being and doing you want to reflect in your actions. A choice like that is not a list of pros and cons, but by the whole of you. Don’t turn your life direction over entirely to your problem-solving mind. If you want to commit to a behavior change, link that resolution to a values choice you’ve made with your whole self.
Tip #2 Pick a Hero and Be Guided
If you are going to change in an area, pick a guide or a hero whose life reflects qualities you admire in that area – someone you deeply respect. Imagine that they can read your mind and as you consider the resolutions you want to make, mentally ask for guidance and wisdom from the guide you have picked. Tweak the resolution based on that wisdom within.
Tip #3 Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
When you intend to make a change, start with a S.M.A.R.T. goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-focused, and Time Bound. It does not help to have a vague intention like “I will be better”, because it has no increments of progress. Instead, apply the SMART formula and set a goal like “I will go on the treadmill each Wednesday for 30 minutes.”
Tip #4 Assess Certainty
After you have made a plan about what you wish to change, make sure to check in with yourself: What is your level of certainty on a scale of 1 to 10? If you are certain at an 8 or above, great! Give your plan a try and see how it works. If you are certain at a 7 or below, adjust your plan to increase your level of certainty. If you need some extra inspiration, take a close look at the other tips on this list and give some of them a try.
Tip #5 Start With One
When we set goals, we are often motivated and become overly ambitious. As a result, we try to fix too many issues at once, leaving us quickly depleted and exhausted. Don’t fall for this trap! It’s better to focus on only ONE area at a time. The less you need to change, the better you can focus your attention and energy where you really need it.
Tip #6 Start Imperfect
No change is going to be nice and clean from the beginning. Instead, there will be a lot of shortcomings and early falls. This is alright. Allow yourself to make mistakes, and know that imperfection is part of the process. You can always optimize later on. What matters is not whether you start out perfect, but whether you are willing to continue when the circumstances are less than ideal.
Tip #7 Start Small
When making a change, we are often tempted to go all out. We don’t just start dieting, but decide to cut out all forms of sugar for good. This is not only unnecessary, but also unsustainable. Instead, it’s better to start small. Don’t just quit all sugar, but start by drinking no soda during weekdays. And then build from there. Slow, but sustainable. If your mind tells you its too small to matter, laughingly agree and make it even smaller!
Tip #8 Grow Slow
It’s not enough to start small. You also want to make sure you grow in a small, slow manner. For instance, when you want to build your reading habit, don’t jump from 10 to 60 minutes of reading each day. Instead, grow slow and add just 5 minutes to your daily reading time every week. This is not sexy and it will not lead to quick results. However, it will also be more sustainable and give you the time you need to adjust to your new habit.
Tip #9 Track Your Progress
When you get easily overwhelmed by a big goal, this next tip is for you: Track your progress and watch how far you come each day, week, and month. This will allow you to break down a big goal (like losing 50 pounds) into manageable chunks (like losing 1 pound each week), and will keep your commitment steady when you feel like giving up. You can track your progress by making a mark in your calendar each day you follow through. Or you can use an excel sheet on your laptop or an app on your smartphone. Whichever method you use, make sure to track your progress.
Tip #10 Focus on Effort
When you have a big goal in mind, it’s easy to become overly focused on it. Every step you take will be measured against this end goal, leaving you quickly frustrated, because progress can’t happen fast enough. Instead, it’s better to put your focus on your effort. Don’t focus on acing the exam, but on putting in the hours of studying. Don’t focus on losing 50 pounds, but on keeping to your diet. Get the effort right, and see what follows.
Tip #11 Get A Partner
This next tip is probably one of the most effective ones on this entire list. Every goal is easier to achieve with an honest partner by your side. It can be your spouse, a trusted friend, or even a stranger on an online forum. Tell him or her what your plans are and let them keep you accountable on your progress. It’s even better when he or she wants to accomplish a similar goal of their own, so you can hold each other motivated and accountable.
Tip #12 Accountability Routine
It is not enough to just track your progress. You also want to have an accountability routine to check in with yourself. This can be a weekly (or monthly) time where you ask yourself whether what you have been doing is working out for you. If it does, great! And if not, also great! Because now you have the opportunity to adjust your plan and change your course of action. If you have a partner (see Tip #11) you can also agree on an accountability routine together – whether over phone or over a cup of coffee.
Tip #13 Make a Public Announcement
If you want to make sure you follow through, it can help to increase the social pressure. Announce your intention for making a change in public. You can either post an update on your social media, or you can inform your friends and family in person. Depending on your goal (and the people in your life), you will receive pushback, indifference, or support. In either case, you will have more eyes on you, which will increase the pressure to stand by your word and follow through on your goal.
Tip #14 Boost Good Habits
When you want to build better habits, there is a simple guideline to guarantee your success: Make it easy to follow through on your good habit. Do you want to work out in the morning? Then get your work out gear ready the evening before! Do you want to be more grateful? Then put a reminder post-it note on your fridge and bathroom mirror! Every little step to make it easier to follow through on your good habit can make a big difference.
Tip #15 Sabotage Bad Habits
The same strategy applies to your bad habits, but in the opposite direction: Make it harder to follow through on your bad habits. Do you want to quit smoking? Then get rid of the remaining cigarettes and ashtrays in your apartment! Do you want to stop watching TV? Then unplug it and put it in the basement! This may sound excessive, but you know best which strategy works for you. Set up those barriers early and often. Creativity is key, and every step to make it harder to follow through on your bad habits can make a big difference.
Tip #16 Set Up Values Triggers
Sometimes a little nudge can go a long way. Set up a little reminder to remember the values at stake – why your goal is important to you. If you want to exercise so you will be alive when your kids graduate, put their photo in the hall, touch it as you go by and remember your resolution. This can be a note in your wallet. It can be a background picture on your phone. It can be a piece of jewelry. Any form is good, as long as it works for you.
Tip #17 Choose an Action Trigger
Starting a new habit can feel uncomfortable, making us postpone taking action or even skip entirely. For this reason, it helps to choose a trigger that alerts you to take action. You can pick a specific time to get started. Or you can choose a general trigger like each morning you get out of bed, or every evening when you get home.
Tip #18 Link New Actions to Old
One of the best ways to build a new habit is to expand an old one. If you always drink coffee in the morning, and want to do more push ups, do a short round of push ups each morning as the coffee brews. Do not drink a drop until the push-ups have been done.
And there you have it. All of these tips work for some people, and none of them work for everybody. Now it’s up to you to pick some of the strategies and apply them in your own life. Keep what works and throw out the rest. Experimentation is key.
If you’re looking for more tools and proven strategies, keep an eye out for the next article on 18 Tips to Keep Your Commitments.