Raise your hand if the only New Year’s resolution you made this year was not to make any New Year’s resolutions because at least you know you’ll keep that one! It can be discouraging to have good intentions and hopes of accomplishing goals each year only to, once again, fail to make them happen. But be encouraged! The fact that you are thinking about making changes to improve your life means you see the need and have the desire to do something about it. So, how do you set realistic New Year’s resolutions and get them to stick? Here are 9 tips to ensure that, come December 31, you can look back with pride over what you’ve accomplished in 2023.
Evaluate Your Past Failures
You know the definition of insanity – doing something the same way over and over and expecting different results. The same holds true for your resolutions. Before re-setting the goals you didn’t keep last year, evaluate what went wrong the last time you made those resolutions and identify the tips below that will keep you from making the same mistakes again.
One Big, Two Small
One of the things that derails our resolutions is setting goals that are too lofty and that quickly overwhelm us. Instead, keep it realistic by choosing one year-long goal that allows you to achieve incremental success (like losing weight or a new skill) and one or two smaller goals that you can master within a shorter, more focused timeframe (like researching and applying for internships or planting a garden).
Break It Down
Your good intentions will remain only that if you don’t develop an actionable plan to turn those intentions into reality. In other words, you need to break each goal down into small steps that lead to success. If you want to get a handle on your finances, for example, write down the individual steps you’ll need to take to get there and set a date for achieving each one. Maybe it’s consolidating your loans, developing a budget, using an app to record your expenditures, selling some assets, or learning to balance your bank account so you don’t overspend. Detailed planning before you jump in is key to achieving your end game.
Use an Incremental Approach
If your goal is to start exercising five times a week, start out with two per week. Every three months, add another day to your exercise routine until you are working out five times a week by the end of the year. If you’re trying to eat healthier, start by cutting out one thing from you diet, like soda/pop, and replace it with a healthy option. After two to three months, cut out and replace another food item. Again, it’s all about forming new habits, and slowing it down with an incremental approach will help them stick.
If you are too vague with your resolutions, it will be hard to know if you’re achieving them. Using the earlier example, getting a handle on your finances is much less specific than cutting your debt in half. You may follow some of the same steps, but cutting your debt in half gives you concrete numbers to achieve that will allow you to see concrete results, which will spur you on to continue working towards your resolution. Other specific goals might look like fitting back into your favorite jeans, taking two courses towards your online bachelor’s or master’s degree, sorting through three closets before spring break, or volunteering five hours per month.
Use Relevant Resources
While there is no substitute for hard work and commitment, our culture is replete with resources that can make it easier to realize results. Why not use them? Maybe it’s an app for managing your budget, counting your calories, monitoring your physical activity, or limiting your amount of screen time. Or it could be a national weight-loss program, a support group, a subscription to pre-planned healthy meals, a medical device, a personal trainer, or even an enrollment advisor to help get started on that degree. Whatever your goal, research relevant resources to help you stick with your New Year’s resolution.
Use a Support System
You’re more likely to stay on track with your New Year’s resolutions if you enlist the help of friends, family and/or coworkers. So, take someone to the gym with you who has the same resolution or who is already an exercise pro; talk with someone who is financially secure to get pointers on their methods or have them review your action plan; ask family not to serve soda at get togethers, or at least to hold you accountable for not drinking any; share your goal deadlines with a friend and ask them to check in a week or so ahead to see if you’re on track for accomplishing them. You don’t have to do this resolution thing alone!
Evaluate and Readjust
Things happen, and when they do, you need to be flexible enough to adjust your goals without giving up on them altogether. Whether it’s losing a job, an illness, or unexpected overtime at work, it’s easy to throw in the towel. Don’t do it! Step back, adjust your expectations, and add some smaller, incremental steps that will keep you moving forward without overwhelming you. It may not be a major life event that sets you back. Maybe you simply aren’t making the progress you had hoped. Again, remember that change is a process. Small steps are better than no steps, so readjust and begin again.
Celebrate the Small Wins
Don’t wait until you’ve completed your entire goal to pat yourself on the back and celebrate your progress! Remember those smaller steps you identified on the road to reaching your resolution? Every time you achieve one, first of all, mark your progress on a timeline to see how far you’ve come. The visual can help keep you motivated to stay the course. Then, reward yourself in some way – maybe a new piece of exercise equipment or that nice restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. Just make sure the reward doesn’t undo anything you’ve accomplished. Also, tell someone about your success. It’s okay to brag a little – most people will be excited that you are putting in the work and seeing results.
You’ve Got This!
It’s a new year and a new opportunity for self-improvement! So, don’t give up on the idea of making New Year’s resolutions because of past failures. By taking a different approach and using these tips, your odds of success will rise exponentially. And if advancing in your career is one of your 2023 goals, Ottawa University’s student services teams are here to help get you started today!