Ah, the age-old story: Girl makes resolution. Girl crushes resolution for the first two weeks of January. Girl burns out on resolution.
There’s a reason the cliché is, well, cliché. “Most people have unrealistic expectations that keeping resolutions should be easy,” says Pauline Wallin, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior. “So, when it gets difficult, they give up.”
Setting yourself up for success is totally possible, though. Let psychologists who specialize in achieving your goals help you make 2019 the year you finally stick with your resolutions.
1. Make your resolution super-specific.
What sets goals that are totally unachievable apart from those that you can crush? Wallin says the former are all specific, measurable, and attainable. So instead of making the vague resolution to “get in shape,” frame it as something more like “go to the gym three times a week.” It’s something you can clearly understand and measure—and it’s attainable because you’re not setting an unrealistic expectation that you need to work out every single day (which isn’t even necessary to see results, btw).
2. Tell other people about your resolution.
The more you put your plan out there, the more friends and family you’ll have to help keep you accountable, says Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., a psychology professor at DePaul University and author of Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. Posting about your resolutions and progress on social media is also a good idea. You’ll get encouragement when you post about making decisions that will help you get closer to your goal—and even if no one actually calls you out on backsliding, you’ll feel less tempted to in the first place because you know there are people out there keeping tabs on your progress.
3. Surround yourself with supporters, not saboteurs.
Everyone has that friend who is there for you the second you say you want to hit a workout class together…and that friend who knows you’re trying to stick to a budget but is still pressuring you to book a luxe getaway with her.
To set yourself up for max resolution success, surround with people who you know will support your efforts—and maybe even have similar goals themselves, suggests Ferrari. You don’t have to avoid the enabler friends altogether, but by spending less time with them and more with the types of people who will encourage and support you, you’ll be much more likely to stay on track.
4. If you can’t find resolution buddies IRL, connect with some digitally.
Friends aren’t feeling resolutions this year? No problem. Just find supporters who have similar goals online. “On support networks such as Reddit or specific goal-oriented communities such as MyFitnessPal, other people’s stories of their progress and struggles can help you stay on track,” Wallin says. Talking it out with people, even virtually, will reassure you when you feel yourself slipping and give you an outlet where you can celebrate after you achieve your small wins. Make sure you take the time to post as well as read what your virtual friends have to say because “by investing time and energy into posting, you become more committed to your goal.”
5. Translate your big goal into a series of smaller ones.
Breaking your big, scary resolution into baby steps will help you build momentum toward your ultimate goal, says Ferrari . So, if you’ve never run a marathon, sign up for a 5-K that’s a month or two out, and follow a training plan designed to help you build up to that. If you’re a chain-smoker who goes through two packs a day, try cutting out one of your regular smoke breaks from your routine…and then another, and another. Not nearly as intimidating as trying to go cold turkey, right?
6. Then reward yourself for those little wins.
Once you’ve set up smaller and more attainable goals that will help you get to the grand daddy goal, make specific plans to celebrate each time you accomplish one. This will help keep you motivated to power on, says Ferrari.
The reward can be anything—a self-care indulgence like a face mask, or a night of binge watching your favorite Netflix reruns. Or another idea: “You can also create a ‘reward contract’ with a loved one,” says John C. Norcross, Ph.D., psychology professor at the University of Scranton, clinical psychologist, and author of Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing your Goals and Resolutions. So let’s say you achieve three of your smaller goals—your friend or family member would surprise you with a treat of their choice.
7. Be patient.
“Remember that meaningful change takes time,” says Norcross, who notes that it can take up to three months of forcing yourself to go through the motions before a behavior becomes a true habit. If you’re doing everything right, but it seems like your body and mind are resisting the positive changes you’re trying to make, it’s normal,” he explains. Adapting to a new lifestyle takes a while, and that means struggling through the tough parts before things get easier—but remembering (and having faith!) that they will eventually get easier.
8. Track your progress.
You can do this in a few different ways: by taking photos of yourself every week, keeping a checklist of all you’ve accomplished, or charting how far you’ve come on your mirror in lipstick (hey, you do you). “This kind of ‘self-monitoring’ increases your chances of keeping the resolution,” says Norcross. That’s because you’ll be more likely to stay motivated if you can literally see how far you’ve come—and clearly visualize the work you still have left to do.
Want to use a bullet journal to stay on track for your resolution? These tips can help:
9. Set an action plan that will help you avoid slip-ups.
The key here is understanding that certain behaviors or circumstances tend to “trigger” most backsliding, says Norcross. How you can make this work in your favor: If you change your routine in ways that help you actively avoid and/or deal with those triggers, you’ll be much less tempted to veer off-course.
Start by thinking through the types of moments when you’ll feel like giving up, suggests Wallin. Then, make a game plan. For example, if you know cravings for sweets always hit you in the afternoon, but your goal is to cut back on sugar, you can say, “I’ll get up and go for a 15-minute walk then instead to wait it out.” Chances are that at the end of that delay period, your sweet tooth won’t be screaming at you quite so loudly, says Wallin.
10. …But don’t freak out when slip-ups inevitably still happen sometimes.
Life will get in the way and keep you from perfectly following any new resolution routine. Instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach (e.g., “I didn’t work out today, so I might as well skip this entire week”), go into your resolution knowing those off days are going to happen—and practice positive self-talk to encourage yourself to get back on track ASAP when they do.
Affirmations such as, “You’re strong. The fact that you wanted to go to the gym today but got busy doesn’t change that—you can go tomorrow morning” will keep you feeling capable, says Wallin.
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