While the holiday season is full of cookies, candies, and sweets, the New Year is a time to get back into shape and start the year off strong. While many people see resolutions as a way to set themselves up for failure, one research study found that people who create New Year’s resolutions are ten times more likely to actually change their behavior and build healthier habits than those who don’t make annual goals.
Like many people around the world, I start each year by making my own New Year’s resolutions to try and improve my health and wellness and set goals I want to achieve. However, I tend to fail in just a few months or feel unmotivated to keep going.
But the trick I’ve learned is to come up with achievable, realistic, and interesting goals. If you’re like me and struggle to stay committed to your resolutions for the whole year, here are some tips I’ve found helpful that will keep you focused and motivated.
Make a Specific Goal
Many times, goals that are difficult to achieve are too broad or vague. Something like, “I want to lose weight,” varies widely in its interpretation. When coming up with specific New Year’s resolutions, you can use S.M.A.R.T. goals as a scaffold. S.M.A.R.T. stands for:
- Specific – Make your resolution concrete. Does it answer who, what, when, where, why, and how?
- Measurable – How can you tell you are progressing towards your goal?
- Achievable – Is it achievable? How will you know? Is this goal realistic in the time frame you’ve given yourself?
- Relevant – Why does this goal matter to you? Is it really important to you for the right reasons?
- Timely – When do you plan to have this goal achieved?
Creating New Year’s resolutions using the S.M.A.R.T. format can help narrow your goals and make them much more specific. For example, if you want to lose weight, a S.M.A.R.T. goal might look like this:
“I will lose 36 pounds by December 2023 by losing 3 pounds each month because I want to improve my health and feel better about my appearance. I will keep track of this goal by weighing myself each week and recording my weight loss progress every month.”
Create a Detailed Plan for the Year
Now that you have a S.M.A.R.T. goal in place, create a detailed plan for the year. If you want to exercise more, set a time in your schedule when you can exercise consistently. If you want to spend more time with your family, commit one night a week to intentional family time. You can start small, but figure out how you want to increase intervals. For example, if your ultimate goal is to go to the gym five times a week by the end of the year, you can start with once a week in January and February. Then increase it to twice a week in March, then three times a week in May, and so on.
But creating a detailed plan goes beyond scheduling. When you face obstacles or lack motivation, what can you do to help yourself stay on track? For example, if you miss days of exercising due to vacation, illness, or another reason, what will you do? Write down these plans and how you can renew your motivation when times get tough or challenges come your way.
When you have a specific goal in mind, sometimes it can be too long-term and difficult to stay motivated for the whole year. That’s why it’s important to start small. First, focus on one specific New Year’s resolution. Then create smaller goals to get there. For example, I’d like to change my diet to include more vegetables, but let’s be real: starting with a salad for lunch instead of carbs once a week and slowly including more greens in my meals over the next several weeks and months is much more realistic. And achieving those smaller goals will make me feel more accomplished and motivated.
In the same way, including smaller and achievable short-term goals in your plan will help you feel like you’re making progress toward your long-term goal.
When the going gets tough, sometimes you need a little pick-me-up here and there. When you achieve your little goals each week or month, make sure to reward yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything big—treat yourself to a bubble bath, a trip to the movie theater, a drink at a fancy bar, or even a date night. Planning out rewards for yourself gives you something to look forward to and motivates you to achieve the next small goal until you reach your main New Year’s resolution.
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
You’ll have moments—maybe many moments—throughout the year where you feel like giving up. However, remind yourself of the bigger picture. Are you trying to change your diet or quit smoking? Remind yourself that it’s because you want to improve your health to enjoy life for a longer time. Is your resolution to spend more intentional time with your kids? Remember that you’re doing it because you want to enjoy your children while they’re still young and make lasting memories together.
Whatever your reasons, keep the bigger picture in mind of why you want to make these lifestyle changes. Write down the reasons that keep you going and what you can gain by accomplishing your goal. If those things don’t help, find other sources of inspiration to keep you going.
Use the Buddy System
As cliche as it sounds, having a buddy can help keep you motivated to achieve your goals, especially when you feel like giving up. Camaraderie makes work fun. If you’re dragging yourself out of bed at 6 a.m. to go to the gym before work, having someone else to drag you along or cheer you on can make it more worthwhile. You can even join a group or a class to help keep yourself accountable. If your goal is to eat healthier, enlist the help of your family. You might even bring them on your journey with you and make your resolutions a household goal.
Whatever specific New Year’s resolutions you make, you can achieve them with a plan in place and enough perseverance. We hope these tips will help you make this upcoming New Year a successful one!
Emily currently lives in Orange County, California after spending four years in Illinois and half a year teaching in Florence, Italy. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Knox College and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of San Diego and has taught English to native speakers and ESL students for over three years. When she’s not working as a School Counselor or writing, she enjoys traveling the world, playing instruments, and blogging about Millennial experiences at Long Live the Twenties.