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How to Make New Year’s Resolutions — and Keep Them

Breaking the cycle of unfulfilled resolutions

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yet every January 1st, we all do just that when we make our lists of New Year’s resolutions. As the holiday season comes to a close, we collectively realize that we’ve eaten too many sweets, spent too much money, and sat on couches for far too many days in a row, and the new year seems like the perfect opportunity to finally lose those pounds, hit that savings goal, and finally establish a successful exercise routine. 

We’re all more or less committed to these resolutions for a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months. But how many success stories do you hear come the following New Year’s? How often does someone lose 20 pounds because of a resolution they made? Once life returns to normal after the holidays, the urgency for clean and healthy living starts to wear off, and we often find ourselves slipping back into old routines, resolutions notwithstanding. 

There’s nothing wrong with making resolutions — humans are a goal-oriented species, after all. But if we’re going to break the cycle of unfulfilled resolutions, we need to change the way we approach them. 

Be Specific

Coming off the high of the new year, we often make sweeping, ambitious resolutions. This is the year we’re going to get fit! Eat healthy! Be a better friend! Watch less TV and read more books! And while there’s nothing wrong with challenging ourselves to lofty goals, the more our resolutions diverge from the quantifiable, the more difficult they are to accomplish. 

Make sure your goals are measurable. “Being fit” can mean so many things, and because it lacks specificity, it will easily slip by the wayside. Define what “being fit” means for you. Does that mean taking the dog for a walk instead of using a dog walker? Going for a run on the weekend before getting brunch? Does it mean hitting the gym more often? Quantifying these things makes them much less overwhelming, and more manageable. 

Do Less

Part of the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that we want to make all of the changes all at once. It’s tempting to get swept up in that desire, but developing a habit or learning a skill takes a lot of time and attention, and trying to split focus between multiple goals is a sure recipe for discouragement. 

Pick one resolution to work on and allow your body and mind to adjust to it before you take on another. For example, if your resolutions are to wake up at 5am and work out every morning, develop the habit of an early wake up first. Once that has become a natural part of your morning routine and you’re no longer feeling the side effects of changing your sleep schedule, then try adding a workout. 

Make A Timeline

Resolutions are typically difficult, if only because they’re not things we are inclined to do by nature — after all, we have to resolve to accomplish them. In the face of that, a year can seem like an interminable time.

Instead of making one resolution for the entire year, think about taking up one per month. In January, focus on healthy eating. In February, pick up and practice an old skill. Make hospitality the theme of March, learn something new in April, read five books in May, and so on and so forth. With any luck, narrowing your focus to one goal per month will actually solidify those routines in your life — it only takes 21 one days to establish a habit. 

Think Small

Know the difference between a goal and a desire. Maybe the desire is to lose 20 pounds over the year, but meeting that can be outside our control. Our metabolism is a dynamic thing and often determines our ability to meet a target weight. Instead, evaluate why you need to lose weight. Do you have unhealthy eating habits? Do you struggle to get moving? A commitment to healthy cooking or an exercise routine is within your control — and as an added benefit, you’ll often find that one fuels the other. 

Have Fun!

Above all, remember that resolutions are positive improvements that you want to make in your life. Too often when we start to fail, they become agents of guilt and turn into punishments. Create the surroundings that will set you up for success, and find something that you enjoy doing. If you’ve always hated running, don’t make a resolution to start — there are plenty of other ways to be active, like kickboxing or pilates. Don’t like working out by yourself? Take a class. Don’t like to read? Listen to a podcast about a subject that interests you. Hate salads? Great news, plenty of other foods are good for you! Don’t let the standards of others or your own prejudices be your own biggest obstacle to a happier you. 

Now go kick some butt in 2020. 

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