New year’s resolutions have a bad name. They have become somewhat synonymous with “making promises you don’t intend to keep” and “setting unrealistic expectations. Resolutions can be a very helpful tool, but you have to approach them in a smart way.
1. Resolutions should be daily or weekly tasks.
Setting a resolution of “getting in shape” is setting yourself up for disappointment. A resolution of “go to the gym at least twice per week” is better. A resolution of “do 15 pushups each day” is another good one. Focus your resolution on the specific actions you will take–not on what you hope to achieve.
2. Set small, specific tasks as resolutions
Resolutions need to be something where it is easy to tell if you achieve it or not. “Get smarter every day” is a bad resolution. How would you know if you have achieved it or not? “Read one astrophysics article each day” is a much better resolution (if you know enough about astrophysics that the entire thing doesn’t go over your head).
Your focus should be to keep the resolution–not achieve something nearly impossible It is better to set a low resolution and achieve it than set a high one and fizzle out after a few months. You don’t want to “aim high”. You want to make a commitment that you know you can keep. Successfully keeping a resolution is a much better spring board than shooting for the moon and failing–no matter how close you came.
3. Use “getting started” resolutions
Setting a small resolution that puts you in a good position to achieve more is a very good practice. For example, “Exercise for 2 hours at the gym 3 days per week” is something you probably aren’t going to be able to actually do. However, something like “get on the elliptical machine at the gym three days per week” is easier to achieve and positions you to do much more. If you don’t want to be there after 15 minutes, you leave. But most of the time, you’ll probably stay and do a full workout because the hard part is getting there in the first place.
4. Add up the time of all your resolutions
Don’t resolve to do so much that it adds another 20 hours to your week. Be realistic. You can probably handle an additional 20 minutes of daily activities, but if you go beyond this, make sure you specify what is going to get cut out.
5. Use negative resolutions and limitation resolutions
Sometimes resolving not to do something or to stop doing something is even more powerful than starting something new. Some examples: “Watch less than 2 hours of TV each week.” “Eat only one dessert per week.” “Spend no more than 15 minutes on Facebook each day.” “Stop browsing the internet after 8pm.”
6. Make it easy to succeed
If you resolve to eat no more than one piece of candy per week, don’t keep a bunch of Snickers in your house. If you resolve to spend at least 10 minutes each day on your exercise bike, move the TV in front of the bike and remove all the other chairs. Set yourself up for success by creating an environment that makes it easier to follow your resolution than to fail.
7. Tie activities together
Resolve to only perform something you regularly do and enjoy while doing the task you want to resolve to do. On the exercising example, perhaps you would resolve to only watch TV if you are exercising. Another variation is to tie a particular existing action with a new resolution. If you are trying to keep in better contact with your family, perhaps you would resolve to call one family member during your Thursday evening commute each week. If you are wanting to work on saving money, you could resolve that for every dollar you spend on a particular non-essential activity, you’ll put a dollar into savings.
8. Set a time limit
Most new year’s resolutions are done with the idea that you are promising to do something for the next 365 days. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a shorter time frame. It isn’t bad to resolve to go for a walk 3 days each week for the next two months, achieve the goal, and then re-evaluate.
Resolutions can be a powerful way to influence your behavior. Just be sure to keep your focus on keeping your resolution and set your goals as something you can achieve. If in a month you are saying “well that was never realistic in the first place,” you didn’t set yourself up to succeed. Once you succeed, you can aim higher next time.