Every year, Livonia mom Amy Copeland makes a New Year’s resolution to start walking and exercising regularly. “I want to be in good health to keep up with my kids and losing weight would be a bonus, but every year I seem to lose track of it,” she says.
Copeland isn’t alone. Up to 50 percent of American adults make New Year’s resolutions, notes a Journal of Clinical Psychology study by Dr. John Norcross. After a month, 64 percent were still keeping up – and, by June, only 46 percent. But consider this: Only 4 percent of those who set life-changing goals at times other than New Year’s were still successful six months later.
So, yes: Those resolutions indeed work! You just need to set the right goal, prep for the changes and motivate yourself to continue at it. More specifically, take the advice of local family therapist/life coach Sharon Lotoczky at Work-Life Solutions Personal Counseling, who offers seven steps on how to make New Year’s resolutions and stick to them this year.
1. Be specific and realistic
“Designing the goal is the most important part,” says Lotoczky. You have to figure out what you are going to do and why you are trying to do it, and be as specific as possible about your resolution.
“It’s not enough to just say, ‘I want to work out,'” Lotoczky adds. “You have to say ‘I want to walk for 20 minutes, three days a week.’ It has to be specific – and it has to be realistic.”
Your resolution has to be something that you can see yourself doing. If you barely exercise every day, it may not be realistic to say you’re going to run a marathon by the end of the year.
The goal also should be measurable. It can’t be so vague – “I want to lose weight,” for instance. Establish how much you want to lose in the year and what is feasible.
2. Create steps to achieve your goal
So often, people simply say that they want to lose weight or quit smoking, but they don’t determine how exactly they are going to do that. The key, says Lotoczky, is to establish steps that will help you achieve your goal.
For instance, if your goal is to be punctual, one of your steps should be coming up with some sort of system for tracking and reminding yourself of where you have to be and when. It could be a calendar in your kitchen that you review every morning while you make lunches, or your trusty smartphone calendar, with built-in reminder chimes.
3. Prepare for setbacks
You might come out of Jan. 1 ready and raring to go, but don’t get too confident. Old habits die hard. “It takes a good month for someone to get used to something,” says Lotoczky. “At the 14th day, there is a transitional spot. It gets difficult then, and you might feel like you’re going to lose motivation.”
But you can prepare yourself for that stumble. “Knowing that the 14th day will be hard ahead of time allows for you to plan how you are going to get over the hump.”
Remind yourself that it’s normal to lag in your effort after so many days. You just have to remember why you’ve set the goal, what it means to you, and ride through until you feel that it will get easier and you’ll be able to continue.
Lotoczky also suggests that you plan for things that may hinder your goal. If your resolution is to walk three days a week, but you know it’s the winter months and it may not be feasible in a snowstorm, have a backup plan. Go to an indoor mall to walk, or have an aerobics tape on hand at home.
Still, even with your best efforts, occasional slips happen. The important thing is to maintain your confidence and get back on task.
In fact, a slip can be a chance to fine-tune your efforts and your resolve. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology study, 71 percent of people who made New Year’s resolutions slipped in January, but found that slip strengthened their efforts.
4. Evaluate your past
As the saying goes, “If we don’t learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it.” That’s why, if every year you make the same New Year’s resolution and don’t follow through, you need to look back and figure out what didn’t work for you.
“You just need to do a little soul searching and see how you’ve done it in the past,” says Lotoczky. “If you had roadblocks in your way during previous goals, then you need to plan a way to maneuver around and make this change last.”
Or, for instance, if you’ve tried to quit smoking by chewing gum every year, maybe you need to try an electronic cigarette or the smoking patch instead. Basically, evaluate your previous effort, keep what worked and change what didn’t.
5. Remind yourself of the benefits
Motivation is key if you want to accomplish a goal, says Lotoczky. Your motivation is the engine that drives your effort. It’s what keeps you doing or not doing the things that sabotage it.
That’s why it’s important to tap into why you want to enact this change in your life. What does this change do for you? How is your life better if you achieve it? And really look at how you can keep this top of mind.
“Look at who you are and what motivates you to do things daily,” says Lotoczky. “That will answer the question of how you can succeed.”
If you like physical evidence of progress, you should keep track of what you’re doing. Write down what you’ve done to achieve your goal every day. That way, you can see it and remember that you’re getting closer to fulfilling your resolution.
6. Get support
If you really want to eat healthier or quit smoking or get organized, tell those close to you, so they can provide support, encouragement and keep you honest.
You may also want to consider joining a support group. You may be familiar with different programs for weight loss, but there also are smoking cessation support groups available through some local hospitals.
If you can’t find a support group for the goal you’re working on, consider the buddy system. Find one person who’s committed to making the same change, and share tips and support to keep you on target. Or, get the kids involved and set some goals as a family.
7. Reward yourself
Sometimes our goals seem so far away, so setting up a system to reward yourself along the way can help make the experience of working toward that goal more enjoyable.
“Work toward a reward, and it will become more fun and less of a drudge,” says Lotoczky.
For instance, after one month of sticking to your resolution, reward yourself with something. If your goal is to walk more, buy a new pair of athletic shoes after the first month. After 90 days of achievement, get a new jogging suit. It will give you something to look forward and keep you on track.
Or start a money jar for motivation. Every time you walk or every day you don’t smoke a cigarette or just every day you move closer to achieving your resolution, put a dollar in the jar. Set a time period, like 90 days, and if you have maintained your change for that amount of time, then you can use the money for something you’ve been wanting.
“Things like this make it fun and will lighten your mood,” says Lotoczky. “Positive behavior change is the most successful way to make a resolution stick.”
Have additional tips or suggestions? Comment below!
This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for 2015.