Even in the best of times, you may feel some ambivalence about making new year’s resolutions. On the one hand, it’s a fresh start where you’re unboxing 12 new months of opportunity. On the other hand, your past experience may have told you that it’s unlikely you’ll stick with doing anything dramatically different than before. And by February, you may have completely discarded — or even forgotten about — the resolutions that you felt so excited about at the start of the year.
After having weathered two years of never-before-seen global uncertainty, the ambivalence may have slid into helplessness. Why even attempt to set resolutions when I have no idea what will transpire in the coming months?
I hear you. And as a time management coach who has helped clients around the world navigate all the ups and downs of 2020 and 2021, I understand how there’s been a vast array of unforeseen challenges in making and keeping resolutions.
However, I’ve also seen that even in the midst of uncertainty that you really can move forward on what’s important to you. And in fact, making a resolution and keeping it could greatly boost your sense of self efficacy, i.e. your belief in your ability to take action that benefits yourself and your situation.
So before you give up on making resolutions, consider these tips on how to make resolutions that will actually stick. And allow your commitment to yourself and your goals create positive momentum in January and beyond.
Assess your willingness.
The first, and in my opinion most important step in the resolution process is to decide whether you actually want to make different choices in a certain area. If you really don’t want to spend less time on social media, don’t make that a resolution.
Chose resolutions that really matter to you and where you have a strong “why.” For example, maybe you really do want to lose weight because you want to have more energy or you want to keep up with your kids or you want to look fantastic for a wedding. Having a compelling reason can give you the tenacity to stick with your resolutions when you feel tired, unmotivated, and just want to take the easy way out.
Pick just one or two.
In general, resolutions are nice-to-have-in-the-short-term items. You won’t typically experience immediate consequences from not keeping them, but in the long term, your life will be better off for having quit smoking or reducing spending.
Because there aren’t usually instant negative effects, you’ll tend to look at these goals as “extras.” And since most of us don’t have much time or energy for a lot of extras, you’ll increase your likelihood of success by picking just one or two resolutions. In the paper, Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting, the authors share research that even when you have multiple goals, you’re most likely to only focus on one. So why not just choose one from the start?
It’s easier to remember and implement when you focus on one resolution or at least one area such as investing time in exercise and making healthier food choices under the umbrella of losing weight.
Commit to a specific action.
In my first book, The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment, I talk about the importance of clarifying “action-based priorities.” What this means is that you translate your conceptual priority, in this case a resolution, into a practical action you can put into your calendar.
For instance, if your resolution is to spend more time with friends and family, you could set aside two Friday evenings a month to get together with friends or block your calendar after 5:30 PM so you can leave in time to make family dinner or commit to being off the computer by a certain time of night so you can give your spouse your full attention.
Or if your resolution is to get in shape, you could put a weekly time in your calendar to shop for groceries to have healthy food in the house and decide on the specific days and times each week when you will exercise.
Choosing in advance what actions will align with your new year’s resolutions and when you will complete them makes it simpler for them to stick.
Make it easy.
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear puts a big emphasis on making your habits obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. He encourages readers to make new habits the path of least resistance. With your resolutions, that could mean only allowing healthy food to cross the threshold of your home, paying for items in cash, and putting blockers on your phone to make it more difficult — or impossible — to access distracting apps.
Think through how you can reduce all friction toward what you want to see in your life and increase friction for what choices you want to avoid.
Track your progress.
In the swirl of life, it’s easy to lose commitment if you don’t track your progress. I recommend you decide on a place to write down the actions related to your resolutions and record what you do daily.
That could mean writing them in your paper planner, keeping them on your calendar, using a habit tracking app, or having a shared document with an accountability partner.
For example, in tracking my main health resolutions, I have a shared online document with an accountability partner (more about the importance of having support below). At the top, I recorded my initial status and my initial goals. Under that, I have a template of the daily habits I’m doing to help me reach my resolutions. Each morning before I start work, I copy and paste that template, edit the date at the top, update it for what I’ve done so far, then keep it current throughout the day. Before bed, I do one final check with the intention of trying to get as many done as possible before I go to sleep. My accountability partner makes encouraging comments in my document, and I do the same for him with his goals in his document.
This written accountability keeps me much more focused and consistent than I would be if I was just trying to hold everything in my head.
In your process of commitment to your resolutions over the course of 12 months, it’s easy for enthusiasm to wane. In those moments when you just don’t want to make the right choices, knowing that someone else is aware and will care can really help.
You could recruit a friend, a colleague, a boss, a coach, a mentor, or anyone else who will consistently check in on you and give you the right kind of feedback: celebrating your commitment to the actions aligned with your resolutions. According to research at The Ohio State University, having that person be someone you look up to could also help with your results. You could also join a support group specifically focused around your specific area of improvement. Knowing other people are working hard on the same choices can help spur you on.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll follow through on your resolutions — only you have the ability to decide what you prioritize and the choices you make in life. But I can guarantee that if you follow the process above you can greatly increase you chance of success. There is always hope for positive change. This year you can seize the opportunity to repeatedly do the actions that help you become the person who you want to be — regardless of what is going on in the world around you.