How to Make a Good Resolution – and Keep It, Too
What’s in a resolution? Depends on who you ask, really. Some people view them as integral parts of the New Year, motivational forces that thrust you past the doldrums of January into blissful nirvana. Others view them as silly, futile, make-you-feel-bad promises that you’ll inevitably end up breaking while drunk off bad wine, eating Cheetos.
My viewpoint of them falls somewhere in-between. I’ve had both totally successful resolutions and real flops. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes them “work” and what doesn’t. Below, I’m sharing some wisdom I’ve picked up, plus some professional insight on how to make and keep a good resolution. Read on!
First, ask why?
The New York Times Upshot column recently ran a piece by Austin Frakt on how he recommends keeping resolutions. In it, he explains the two questions he asks himself before taking on a resolution: “Why don’t I do this already?” and “Why do I feel the need to do this now?” These are very important questions in my opinion, because they get to motivation behind the resolution and, more importantly, illuminate whether your resolution is actually a resolution.
Let me elaborate on this a bit. Say your resolution is, “I will give up all sweets.” Ok. Number one: Why haven’t you given up all sweets already? Is it because it would be very hard to do, and it’s unrealistic? (Then it’s probably not a great resolution.) Now onto question number two: Why are you giving up all sweets now? Is it because you want to lose weight before your vacation next month? (How about after the vacation, what then? Will this still be your resolution? Hmmm.) As you can see, this “resolution” is pretty flimsy – it’s not even a resolution, really. If anything, it is a short-term goal. By all means go for the goal, but change the long-term resolution.
Next, select a resolution that’s realistic and specific.
People tend to go two ways with resolutions. One is “go big or go home” attitude – huge, grand gestures that involve a drastic overhaul of their lives. You know, something like, “Eliminate carbs entirely.” This usually goes up in flames because it involves superhuman discipline or effort. Second is the vague approach, i.e., “Try harder at work.” This also tanks because there’s no way to definitively mark progress and no real accountability. Plus, it’s easy to say you accomplished it. My advice (and that of others): don’t go big and broad. Go realistic and nit-picky specific.
Melanie Tannenbaum of Scientific American wrote an article reinforcing this idea, citing findings from researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. She notes, “Challenging goals are ideal, but they still need to be realistic. Goals that are too easy become boring and will lose your interest and commitment over time; however, goals that are so difficult that they are unattainable are just as demotivating.” So, instead of saying, “I resolve to give up all sweets” or “I resolve to eat healthy,” maybe say, “I resolve to only have dessert once per week.” It’s realistic without being too easy; it’s also specific enough to track tangible results.
Try to partner up with a buddy.
In my own experience, this one has been key to a successful resolution. We all know when you’re accountable to someone else it’s harder to flake. For example, are you more likely to no-show for an exercise class that you’re attending alone or one that you’re attending with a friend? I’m guessing most of you would feel obligated on some level to keep the commitment with your friend. New Year’s resolutions are like that, too.
In 2015, my fiancé and I resolved to stop gossiping as much. It sounds like a kind of petty resolution – and makes us look really awful – but I swear, it’s a lot better than it seems. See, we naturally aren’t big gossipers, but too often we were finding ourselves mindlessly talking about other people. It may have been out of boredom and it wasn’t even mean-spirited but it didn’t make us feel good; we felt like we were in high school again. So we made a conscious effort to help each other out and eliminate the mindless gossip. If one of us started in (“Did you hear that so-and-so said this about so-and-so?”) the other would interject (“Yeah, I did, but who cares?”). We ended up really reforming our habits because we supported each other, constantly reminding each other of the promise we made together. Plus, we felt happier and it actually brought us closer. Win, win, and win.
Be organized and create a schedule.
Without a game plan, you’re screwed. Sounds harsh, but best resolution intentions gone awry are usually because of a lack of planning and organization. So, when it comes to your all-important resolution, take the time to map out exactly how you will be achieving it.
For instance, in 2016, I decided that I wanted to take at least one barre class a week, as a studio had just opened up across the street from me. My first step was signing up for a package, so I was financially committed. But, more importantly, my second step was to schedule out days / times which I would dedicate to attending class and marking them on my calendar for the foreseeable future. Writing for Forbes, Kevin Kruse notes, “Think of these time blocks as important appointments—just like an appointment with a doctor. Don’t automatically schedule something else over them.” This technique can work with all sorts of resolutions; for example, if you’re trying to save money, schedule in automatic transfers to occur on a weekly or monthly basis. Or schedule in time to review your bank statements every Sunday. Once you have the structure in place things will be much, much easier. As Kruse concludes, “That which is scheduled gets done.”
It’s early yet in 2016 – so I can’t report back yet – but here’s to hoping my resolution (and yours) are successes. Cheers!