It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and that means it’s the season for resolutions. I’ve always been part of the 44% of Americans who make (and also break) New Year’s resolutions; I’m a big believer in the power of small changes to make us happier.
Along the way, and especially since I started my resolutions-based happiness project, I’ve hit on some strategies for helping myself stick to resolutions.
1. Be specific. Don’t resolve to “Make more friends” or “Strengthen friendships”; that’s too vague. To make more friends as part of my happiness project, I have several very concrete resolutions like: “Start a group,” “Remember birthdays,” “Say hello,” “Make plans,” “Show up,” and “No gossip.”
2. Write it down.
3. Review your resolution constantly. If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it’s easier to stick to it. I review my Resolutions Chart every night.
4. Hold yourself accountable. Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart (my method) — whatever works for you to make yourself feel accountable for success and failure.
5. Think big. Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure – a trip to a foreign place, a break-up, a move, a new job. Let yourself imagine anything, and plan from there.
6. Think small. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference. Just keeping your fridge cleared out could give you a real boost. Look close to home for ways to improve and grow.
7. Ask for help. Why is this so hard? But every time I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much easier my task becomes.
If you have an especially tough time keeping resolutions, if you have a pattern of making and breaking them, try these strategies:
8. Consider making only pleasant resolutions. We can make our lives happier in many ways. If you’ve been trying the boot-camp approach with no success, try resolving to “Go to more movies,” “Entertain more often,” or whatever resolutions you’d find fun to keep. Often, having more fun in our lives makes it easier to do tough things. Seeing more movies might make it easier to keep going to the gym.
9. Consider giving up a resolution. If you keep making and breaking a resolution, consider whether you should relinquish it entirely. Put your energy toward changes that are both realistic and helpful. Don’t let an unfulfilled resolution to lose twenty pounds or to overhaul your overgrown yard block you from making other, smaller resolutions that might give you a big happiness boost.
10. Keep your resolution every day. Weirdly, it’s often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail, do laundry) than every few days.
11. Set a deadline.
12. Don’t give up if something interferes with your deadline.
13. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Thank you, Voltaire. Instead of starting your new exercise routine by training for the marathon, aim for a 20-minute walk each day. Instead of cleaning out the attic, tackle one bureau drawer. If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.
What else? What are some strategies you’ve discovered, to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions?
Just as my friend Marci Alboher has been writing about Laid Off From My Non-Job, Lisa Cullen of the TIME blog Work in Progress has been writing about How I Decided to Vamoose. I’m fascinated and heartened by reading these honest accounts of very difficult situations.
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.