7 tips for making & keeping New Year’s resolutions

By Magazine staff  |  Photos by Image Catalog/Flickr Creative Commons

Most of us make New Year’s resolutions based on behaviors that we would like to modify or stop completely for a reason. As most of us know, this is often easier said than done—even when we have the best of intentions to follow through.

Good news: There are specific ways to go about making and following through on your goals for this year and beyond.

Loyola magazine asked two faculty psychologists for a few pointers for setting and sticking with resolutions to share with our readers.

Read on for expert advice for making, following through on, and seeing results with New Year’s resolutions—whether your goal is to quit smoking, to stay organized, or to spend more time with loved ones.

1. Make SMART resolutions.

Set goals that are SMART:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realistic
Timely

Don’t set goals like “I will be happier this year.” That’s not specific enough. Additionally, how do you know when you have arrived at happiness if you can’t really measure it? What’s more, this goal doesn’t have a timeline.

Along those same lines, you should avoid setting “pie-in-the-sky goals, like being a better person.” Break down larger goals to set small, concrete goals that you can measure. That often means being as specific as possible.

Rather than setting a goal of quitting smoking, give yourself a realistic and measurable way to achieve this goal.

2. Map out a behavioral action plan for you to follow.

Setting quantitative goals and then coming up with a plan to follow through on them sets successful resolution-keepers apart from those who see their goals go by the wayside come February. You’ll achieve greater success by monitoring and charting your success and then using rewards and re-enforcers.

If we use a resolution to lose weight as an example, set a day and time—say, Friday morning before you get in the shower—to step on your bathroom scale. Keep a weight-loss journal and jot down your progress each week.

If you’re trying to exercise more, keep a log of the days you made it to yoga during the week, or buy a pedometer and track and chart your steps taken each day.

Make the goals part of your daily routine, writing them on your bathroom mirror with a washable marker, or posting a list on the refrigerator. Set a date to check on the progress of your goals and put that date in your phone so that you get a reminder.

Reward yourself for the incremental goals you achieve. If you meet your goal of exercising every day for the first three weeks of the year, buy yourself that new gym bag you’ve had your eye on. Having a new bag could serve double-duty to re-enforce your new exercise routine.

Part of your process for success might include identifying your weaknesses and making a plan to avoid these weaknesses.

3. Budget time for yourself to plan, learn about, and seek and make use of the appropriate resources for meeting your goals.

People who have success in keeping their resolutions set aside time to make a plan of action.

Let’s say your resolution is to become a vegetarian. You will likely need to learn what to buy at the grocery store. Set aside time in your schedule early on to learn about how this lifestyle choice might affect your nutrition. You might need to make a trip to a vitamin store to educate yourself on and purchase supplements.

4. Make a set list of allowances.

Many people find it helpful to identify and list certain times or circumstances when not adhering to their resolutions is acceptable. This makes us more easily integrate them into our day-to-day lives—which are, truth be told, unpredictable.

If, for example, your goal is to exercise every day in 2016, perhaps your allowances include missing a workout because your child is sick, or due to working late because you are on a deadline.

However, acknowledge and hold yourself to the fact that it’s not acceptable to let yourself miss a workout if you’re just plain tired.

5. Hold yourself accountable.

It’s important to check in with yourself as you plan, monitor, struggle through, and ultimately (hopefully!) succeed with your resolution.

Be honest with yourself. Half the battle is reflecting on why you made your resolution in the first place. Why was making a change important? What led you to want this change in your day-to-day life?

If you’re not responsible for making this change, who is?

Consider taking it one step further and having a daily check-in with a friend.

If your resolution is to stop gossiping, text your friend at night, and tell them how you did that  day, how many times you talked about someone else, why you decided in the first place to stop doing that, how it makes you feel when you avoid gossip versus falling into its trap.

6. Enlist support.

When you make resolutions, share them with a support system. This could include friends, siblings, coworkers, a spouse, or a neighbor. Enlist these folks for encouragement and even the occasional check-in. And don’t forget about God. Enlisting God through prayer is a powerful way to renew your intention to your resolution as well as strengthen your spiritual life.

7. Don’t be afraid to fail and start again.

If you make a mistake, don’t get so disappointed in yourself that you give up on your goal. Like a quarterback, pretend that those mistakes were in the first quarter and start the second quarter fresh.

There is a lot of pressure to start anew in January. Many people think if they don’t have a spotless resolution month in January, they’re doomed. But the first 30 days don’t have to make or break the entire year… and in fact, this month might be a good time to set, plan for, and amend your goals for the rest of the year.

If you don’t have a good January, start over again in February.

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