The Well-Being BlogPractical Everyday Health & Wellness Topics
Top 10 Tips to Create (or revamp) Successful
New Year’s Resolutions
Over the past few weeks my Inbox, Twitter, and Facebook feeds have been inundated with messages of a similar vein – The Top 4, 7, 8, 10 & 15 Tips to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Successful. Each one claims to be the definitive guide for making lasting change.
But I found myself asking if those posts were all saying the same thing or if there was really a vast and varied list of things one should do to create a truly successful resolution.
As a result of this question, I decided to do some research.
I dove into all the usual sources – blogs, Facebook, and Twitter – to see if I could determine if all the ‘experts’ were recommending the same things or if there really is a never-ending list of resolution to-do’s. I also consulted webMD, the American Psychological Association’s website, as well as the writings of several neuroscientists specializing in change to see what was written about resolutions.
After examining 18 different lists offering over 100 individual tips, what I discovered was interesting. First, 45% of the tips were unique and found only once in all the lists. Second, 55% of the tips were found on multiple lists. And while I expected to find numbers like this, I was surprised by the tips that were cited most frequently and have summarized those for you.
Based on my exhaustive (or exhausting) research, here are the Top 10 Tips to Create (or revamp) a Successful New Year’s Resolution.
1 – Write it Down / Make a Plan / Anticipate Obstacles (found on 8 of 18 lists)
Write it down
Research from Dominican University of California has shown that people who write down their goals are significantly more likely to achieve them than are those who merely make mental vows. It's also important to post your goal in places where you will see it often, says Marvin D. Seppala, M.D. "Your will matters most the moment you make a resolution – and you'll want to be able to recapture the intensity of that moment again and again."
Make a Plan
"Have an action plan," says Richard O'Connor, author of “Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy”.
To ensure success you need to research the change you’re making and plan ahead so you have the resources available when you need them. If you do enough research, you should even be looking forward to making the change. Also, plan for success – get everything ready so things will run smoothly.
There will be problems. So make a list before hand of what those might be. If you think about it, you’ll likely be able to even anticipate problems at certain times of the day, with specific people, or in special situations. Once you’ve identified the situations that will likely be difficult, work out ways to deal with them when they inevitably crop up.
2 – Be Kind to Yourself (found on 8 of 18 lists)
Slip Ups Are Not Failure
Give yourself a break. Remember that slips are inevitable, it's not a failure, but just a part of the process. No matter how hard we may try, no one achieves perfection. Let go of the all-or-nothing approach. If you slip up, it's not the end of the world.
Be compassionate with yourself. If you're honestly doing your best to accomplish your goal, go easy on yourself when those times are the toughest. If you made an action plan and prepared for disruptions, you're ready for them and have a plan to get back on track. Remember, you can always start anew whenever it’s necessary.
3 – Know Your Why / Know Your Goal (found on 7 of 18 lists)
The reasons behind your goal must resonate with you to provide a solid foundation to establish new behavior and ensure success.
Don't make it a resolution that you "should" want or what other people tell you to want. It has to fit with your own values and desires.
Put some thought into it. Read up on it – search the internet or even consult books on the subject. If you do enough research, you will likely be looking forward to making the change.
Don’t focus on how to do it, but rather, ‘why I should do it.’ Why do you want this goal to become a reality? The intensity of emotion with which you answer this question will determine whether the dream comes alive or dies early. When you have a strong ‘why,’ you are much more likely to succeed.
4 – Share with Others / Accountability Buddy (found on 6 of 18 lists)
Don't go it alone. Get an accountability buddy. Having someone hold you accountable can be a powerful tool. Consider forming a group of like-minded people or take a class with others who have common goals. Having support and being able to talk about your struggles can make sticking to your resolutions less overwhelming.
Professor Clayton R. Cook, Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota says “Creating situations that involve positive peer pressure from trusted, respected, and valued others is a good way to create accountability to stick with a new behavior.”
At a minimum, share your goal verbally or written. Research indicates that those who tell friends or family about their goals do better than those who don't. And people who email their support team with weekly progress updates do best of all. Social approval – as in "You look great!" – gives your brain a surge of soothing oxytocin, explains Harvard’s Joseph Shrand, M.D..
5 – Start Small (found on 5 of 18 lists)
Start with smaller realistic goals on your way to bigger goals. Make promises that you can keep. Brian Babka, MD, at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group suggests that if you haven't been off the couch in a while, resolving to run a marathon will set you up for failure. Picking small, easy changes eliminates perceptions of difficulty. Also, smaller goals lead to more consistency and help the change become habit.
So instead of overhauling your entire diet, start by replacing sugary treats with healthier options, like tasty fruits. Otherwise, come February or March you'll have completely given up.
6 – One Thing at a Time (found on 5 of 18 lists)
If you want to change your life or your lifestyle, don’t try to change the whole thing at once. It won’t work. Most resolutions actually require many behavior changes. Instead pick one area of your life to begin changing, commit to it and when that habit is ingrained, add another. Committing to too many changes at once is overwhelming, drains your willpower, and makes it easier to slip back to old ways.
7 – Redirect Cravings (found on 4 of 18 lists)
Interrupting cravings is tricky as it's not only an automatic behavior but your brain gets attached to the reward you feel as you give into your craving. Instead of resisting that craving for reward, redirect it – keep the cue (craving) the same but change the routine to reap the reward. For example, having a cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop has always been your cue to also have a donut. Keep the cue (coffee at the coffee shop) but find something to change the routine, like having a piece of fruit instead of a donut. You've changed the routine and can feel good about the successful completion of your new action. You might think of the challenge not as “eat this doughnut or not?” but “eat unhealthy food or not?”.
8 – Be Specific (found on 4 of 18 lists)
The most effective resolutions or goals are ones that are as specific possible. Get really clear about what you want to change. Vagueness doesn’t work with goal setting. Amorphous statements like "exercise more," "eat well," or "lose weight" just won't cut it. Here's where the ol' SMART acronym can be useful – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound. For example, "I will eat a healthy breakfast of protein, grains, and fruit at least 5 days every week for the next 8 weeks."
9 – Take a Gradual Approach (found on 3 of 18 lists)
Take it slow and easy. Making lifestyle changes can take time, so don't expect miracles overnight. Try replacing one unhealthy behavior at a time.
If your goal is habit based, remember that habits form out of repetition over time. Most people initially engage in a behavior to form a healthy habit (for example, getting up earlier to get a jump on the day) but then don’t repeat the action enough to form the habit. Repetition is fundamentally a part of the habit formation process.
10 – Make a 100% Commitment (found on 3 of 18 lists)
Go for it 100%. Make a commitment! It’s all or nothing. It may seem harsh, but anything less than total commitment to your success is failure. You either go after your goals with 100% effort, or don’t bother trying.
This is not to say that there may be times when you slip up or have a relapse. On those occasions, just recommit to your goal and move forward – without feeling guilty or frustrated. Make your goal your passion every single day until you achieve it.
So what does all this mean? If you are among the many millions of people who, on the first day of the new year, made big promises and may already be finding your resolve starting to dwindle, there is still hope that this year you might finally be successful at making the changes you desire. Just follow the top tips listed here!