How to Make New Year’s Resolutions that Follow You Through the Year

Here it comes . . . that time of year that you really dread. No, not the after-the-holidays weigh in — the time when all your friends and colleagues start asking what your New Year’s resolutions are! Every year, millions of Americans make great promises to themselves: they’re going to eat better, exercise more, be more intentional about their relationships and even travel to a far-flung destination.

And every year, millions of Americans give up on their resolution by March. Why does this happen? We have the very best of intentions as we’re coming up with these ideas. We know they will make our lives better. Why on earth can’t we simply stick with it?!? Turns out, there’s a fair amount of brain science around the idea of resolutions, and these strategies can help you plan around obstacles and successfully maintain your resolutions throughout the year. Ready? Let’s get started!

Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Tough to Keep

Before you can fix it, it’s good to know what’s keeping us from following through on these good-for-you ideas. Often, we set goals that are things we have failed at in the past, and gain instant gratification from stating that we’re going to do the work. Since we’ve already gotten the benefit (gratification) from the resolution, we are less compelled to do the work itself because it doesn’t make us feel good (or it’s difficult). To top it off, we’re hit with the full force of our habits, which can derail even the best-laid plans. The good news is that when you better understand what’s happening in your brain, you can create a plan of action.

Plotting a Course Around Your Brain

Now that you know what’s causing the problems, how do you short-circuit the habits that have gotten you where you are now? One tactic recommended by psychologists is to remove the negative emotions that are associated with a particular behavior. Going to the gym may be something that you associate with thoughts of the pain you suffer after a workout. Instead, look to mindfulness to provide you with a “next action” — simply telling yourself that it’s 6 a.m. and at 6, we go to the gym. When you state it to yourself as a fact, you’re less likely to procrastinate the activity. Repetition is also the beginning of many healthy habits. If you automatically put out your workout clothes each evening and know that when the alarm goes off you simply jump into them, it’s easier for the activity to become automatic.

When you’re working through forming healthy habits, it’s important to know that relapse is simply a part of the process. It doesn’t have to be a long-term setback or a reason to completely revert to old activities or ways of being. Instead, a misstep gives you an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-commit yourself to your goal. Another great way to help keep your resolutions moving forward is to add an accountability partner, someone who can help you stay motivated even when you don’t feel like it — so your behavior is more likely to become a habit.

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