Mind & Spirit

5 ways to make your New Year's resolutions stick

Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

5 ways to make your New Year's resolutions stick

New Year's resolutions. Most of us make them, most of us break them, and most of us are aware of what went wrong. Taking time to review what we know works best is the key to breaking the vicious cycle. Here are tips that research shows help make resolutions stick.

Tip #1: Find the problem
"Those of us who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," goes a well-known saying. Nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. If you don't understand what went wrong with your last resolution, there's nothing stopping you from repeating the same mistake.

One common mistake is being overambitious -- for example, expecting to be in super shape within just a few months, or cutting out all excess spending from your budget.

Another reason for failure could be drained willpower. A growing stack of research shows that putting a lot of willpower into one task means there’s less left over for another task. For example, moms who have to maintain an upbeat tone at work may have trouble remaining calm when telling their youngsters to put away their toys for the tenth time. No wonder they fall off the resolution wagon.

Tip #2: Make a better plan
After diagnosing the problem with your old plan, you can make a new and better plan that is more realistic. If your resolution is to stick to a fitness program, make that program doable; aim, for example, to jog three days a week instead of seven. If your resolution is to live within a budget, don't forget that you're bound to make some impulse purchases every now and again. Just minimize the temptation and don't shop when you're drained from a hard day at the office or a long day with the kids.

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how aiming for smaller goals can make your larger New Year's resolutions easier to achieve on page 2
Tip #3: Get some perspective
It’s a good idea to have your new and improved resolution vetted by someone else. Such a "perspective person" should be someone who knows you well and who can be honest with you. Be prepared to hear feedback you may not like -- but also be prepared to use it.

Tip #4: Make mini-plans
Your updated resolution could be multifaceted, which might complicate your efforts. A resolution to stick to a budget, for example, probably requires you to keep receipts from all of your purchases, and to organize all your bills. Instead of getting overwhelmed by this bigger plan, concentrate on a more manageable mini-plan. For example, every time you go to the grocery store, plan to make note of the amount you spent immediately after getting home. If your plan is to jog three times a week, simply put your running shoes by the front door -- a first step to actually putting them on and going for a jog.

Tip #5: Repeat, repeat, repeat
In order for a New Year's resolution to work, the new behaviour has to become automatic. And the only way to make a behaviour automatic is to do it over and over again -- until it sticks.

Don't be discouraged by the occasional failure -- that's all part of self-change. The important thing is to keep going and not give up. Stick to your realistic plan and your new behaviour will soon become a habit.

Dr. Newby-Clark is a professor of psychology at Guelph University in Guelph, Ont.

This story was originally titled "5 Ways to Make your New Year's Resolutions Stick" in the January 2009 issue.

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5 ways to make your New Year's resolutions stick

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