12 ways to keep your resolutions

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Photo by Edit Sztazics

Don’t call it a resolution

No one talks about resolutions after January 2nd. Who even uses the word “resolution” in normal speech? Take a look at the Google searches for “resolution” each year. You guessed it, they peak in January and then immediately drop out of sight, out of mind.

Call it a habit

A habit, on the other hand, is something that stays relevant year round. A habit isn’t defined by its beginning, but rather by its regular appearance in your routine. So first off, get in a long-term mindset by setting a New Year’s habit instead of a New Year’s resolution. Resolutions are hard to keep, habits are hard to break.

Your habit doesn’t have to be new

A lot of New Year’s resolutions fail when people want to do a complete 180. But you don’t have to start from scratch. If you ran a 5K in 2016, maybe you want to do a half marathon in 2017. If you paid off a credit card last year, maybe it’s two this year. If you started meditated, keep meditating. See how long you can keep up a streak.

Find something you’re doing well, and build on your strengths. That positive momentum will help you create other positive changes down the road.

Make it quantifiable

Each year we want to be a vaguely improved version of ourselves, like “be a better friend” or “spend more time with my kids.” Those are nice sentiments, but it’s hard to tell if you’re actually accomplishing what you set out to do. So set a numbers-based goal, like reading at least one children’s book to your kids each night or send one email to an old friend per week. That approach may seem cold and calculating for sentimental goals, but it can actually keep you on track.

Do something for 60 seconds

When I started meditating, I began with a 1-minute daily session. I knew no matter how busy I was, I could fit in 60 seconds. Then 2 minutes. Then 3 minutes. Then 5. Then 10. Then 15. Then 20 minutes. It got easier the more I went on, but it all started with just 60 seconds. So whatever your goal, begin with just 1 minute today.

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The reality of New Year’s Resolutions. Photo by Ryan McGuire.

Hold yourself back at the beginning

If doing something for just 60 seconds seems too easy, that’s the point. In the marathon, you start with a ton of energy. But you need to actively hold yourself back for the first five miles so you don’t burn yourself out over the long haul. The goal at the beginning isn’t to completely change yourself. It’s to establish a foundation of a routine that will help you grow over time.

[For more, read James Clear or Stanford University professor BJ Fogg on the topic of tiny habits.]

Set a daily trigger

Most new habit goals fail because they don’t have a plan. You’re busy and you have a lot of things to think about during the day, and it’s easy to let something new fall through the cracks. The key is to make it an unobtrusive part of your existing routine. Decide that after lunch you’ll meditate, or after waking up you’ll run, or after the kids are in bed you’ll review your finances.

Shut up!

This may be the hardest part. Now that you have an established plan, DON’T TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT. At least not in the beginning. The reason is when we tell people about your grand ambitions, your brain sends you a hit of dopamine as it would if you already accomplished this goal. So be quiet and focus on the finish, not the start. For more read Derek Sivers’ excellent blog on this topic.

Ask others to help you stay accountable

This may seem counterintuitive to the last point, but there’s a subtle but important distinction. Rather than announcing to everyone on Facebook, ask a trusted person to help you stay on track, or even better, create a habit pact together. Being accountable to something outside of yourself is effective for the “obliger” personality, which according to Gretchen Rubin is the most common behavioral tendency.

Harness technology

Others don’t want to involve anyone else in their goals, especially if they are intensely personal. The good news is there is an app available for just about any type of habit change you’re looking for. There’s Runkeeper for running, calm.com for meditation, Mint for personal finance, etc. Download it, put it on your home screen, and turn on push notifications for reminders.

Don’t beat yourself up over a setback

At some point in the life cycle of almost any habit, you’ll fail. Stress, work, sickness, family emergencies or daily responsibilities will get in the way of your habit. That’s to be expected. You can handle that one of two ways. You can beat yourself up and blame yourself, or…

Begin again

This is a concept I learned through meditation. The idea is that during meditation you will continuously catch your mind wandering and thinking about other things. That happens. But instead of getting frustrated, just take a deep breath and say “begin again.” The beauty of a habit is you can always start over, and it doesn’t even have to be January 1st.

Written by

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity: http://bit.ly/thecreativejourney

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