7 Clever Tricks to Make Your New Year's Resolution Stick
Another year, another list of New Year's resolutions that most of us will be unable to keep. The problem with resolutions is that they require a tremendous amount of mental processing power to get from point A to point B. You not only have to begin with over-the-top motivation, but you also need to stay that way. (See also: 4 Money Resolutions Anyone Can Conquer)
When you overtax your brain by trying several new things or adopting new routines at the same time, you subject yourself to cognitive overload, which can result in reduced productivity, and lead to anxiety.
Luckily there are brain hacks and workarounds that you can use to fine-tune your resolutions and ultimately achieve your goals.
1. Simplify your goal
If your New Year's resolution is so complex and grand that it requires a checklist, you are stacking the deck against yourself. Keep it simple. Don't choose an ambiguous goal like, "Save Money." Instead resolve to turn one good financial behavior into a habit. For example, "I will open my bills as soon as I get them and pay them promptly." (See also: Why You Need to Make Financial Habits, Not Goals)
2. Avoid multitasking with your resolution
Most resolutions are not one goal, but sprawling, impossible-to-schedule projects with hundreds of moving parts. But successful resolvers are the people who make one actionable goal and put it into practice until it becomes a regular routine they don't even need to think about. For example, instead of making your goal to “lose weight,” resolve to always drink water instead of soda, and watch as your overall health improves with that one new habit.
3. Don't overschedule yourself
It's hard to stay motivated, to do anything, over a long period of time if you have to continually start and stop due to scheduling issues. One of my goals in 2017 was to reduce my number of personal belongings down to 1,000 items. I failed to meet this goal because the scope was too big. I didn't lose my desire to downsize, but my revised goal for 2018 is to spend one hour each day listing items for sale online. I may not widdle my belongings down to my target number in the next 12 months, but I will succeed in reducing the number of things I have to spend time dusting, and I'll even make some additional cash. (See also: 7 Ways to Make Money Off of Your New Year's Resolutions)
4. Reward yourself along the way
People that have successfully maintained their weight loss know that cheat days are a key part of their success. If you never reward yourself for good behavior, then the healthy habits start to feel like punishment.
However, unlike weight loss — which has visible results that can be validated by peers — no one is going to tell you how cute you look in your new 401(k). While financial responsibility should be its own reward, saving money generally involves a certain level of deprivation. So if your resolution involves saving money, give yourself the ability to splurge in a structured way. For example, give yourself $50 to spend selfishly for every $1,000 you put into savings. (See also: 21 Frugal Ways to Reward Yourself Right Now)
5. Practice, practice, practice
It only takes 13 days to make a new habit. Or 21 days. Or 28 days. Or close to 70. Really, it depends on who you ask. Don't despair, though, because it really is possible to create a new habit; it's just easier if you follow three steps.
Choose a small action
"Lose weight" is not small. Instead choose a tiny component to losing weight, like, "I will take a 30-minute walk five days a week."
Attach it to an existing habit
The easiest way to make a new habit stick is to attach it to an existing habit. For example, if you drink coffee each morning, walk to a nearby coffee shop to get your 30 minutes of walking in. (See also: The Surprisingly Easy Way to Change Your Habits and Your Life)
Create multiple reminders
You have to make your new habit super easy to remember, especially during the first week. Make your new routine as mindless as possible by setting up multiple reminders to get it done. Swap out your regular coffee mug with a travel thermos that will remind you to get your coffee down the street. Ask your coworkers if they want to join your "Walk to Coffee Club" so they can keep you accountable. Wear a fitness tracker, or set your phone to prompt you to walk for 30 minutes each day. Write, "Why aren't you walking?" on the lid of your to-go coffee cup at home. (See also: The Productivity Secret That'll Change the Way You Work)
6. Find a buddy
Why is it so much harder to break a promise to someone else than it is to break a promise to yourself? It will be much easier, and way more fun to keep your resolution if you have an accountability buddy to commiserate and compete with. (See also: 6 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself)
7. Focus on timing
New Year's is a totally arbitrary start date for practicing new habits, so why not start a resolution when your schedule best matches your end goal? For example, why not start working toward your savings goal the day after Tax Day? If you've done your taxes for the previous year, you're already caught up on your accounting and have a fresh view of all your finances.
Or, if your goal is to lose weight, why not start your new healthy habits at the beginning of spring, when you have your choice of fun, outside physical activities to enjoy, rather than in the dead of winter when you'll be stuck inside using the machines that you hate at the gym? If you give yourself a running start, you are more likely to maintain your new practice for one calendar year.
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