A New Start: Making Effective New Year's Resolutions

I've heard it said too many times: “I'm not making any New Year's resolutions, because I never keep them.” While I do not think that one should make New Year's resolutions simply for the sake of making them, I do think they can be a great way to plan ahead and move forward to give us a fresh start as a new year begins. 

But how do we keep the resolutions that we make, and press on when we get discouraged or have a setback? I think the key is to be a good planner, and set goals that are reasonable but challenging enough to move us toward positive change. There are definitely proactive ways to increase the probability that your resolutions will come to fruition. Here are some things to think about as you ponder whether or not making New Year's resolutions is right for you:

  1. Make a preliminary list of things that you would like to do this year. Think about what you want to accomplish, ways in which you would like to self-improve, books you want to read, activities you want to do, things you want to check off of your bucket list, or relationships you want to nurture and grow. Make a list of not less than five items, but not more than 10 items. Once you have a preliminary list, divide the list into categories, such as personal, academic/professional, social/relational, household, etc. 
  2. Look at your list and see if there is one idea in each category that would be possible to complete, or at least start. For instance, a personal goal, a professional goal, a trip you want to take, or something you want to accomplish around the house. Choose goals that are important to you, that are possible with effort, and that you were excited about. You can always add other items to the list later if you accomplish your initial goals.
  3. Share your ideas about resolutions and goals with someone close to you. Ask the person to periodically check in with you to see how things are going. Accountability can be very helpful in keeping you motivated.
  4. Think about what you need in order to accomplish your goal. Make a list of items that you need. For instance, if your goal is to exercise more, and you don't have exercise clothes that fit, get some comfortable clothes that you can wear while exercising. If you don't need to purchase or find anything, you may want to make a short list of steps necessary to complete your desired goal/resolution. The important thing is to really lay out a plan as to how you will accomplish the task successfully.
  5. Keep it simple. Your resolution does not have to be complicated, require a great deal of time, or be something profound. For instance, you could make the resolution to spend more time with friends. But that can take many forms. It could mean that you invite a friend to lunch once a month, or simply text or call a friend with whom you would like to catch up every week or two. It doesn't have to involve major organizing or planning. If the result is to, for example, feel more connected, then there are lots of ways to accomplish this task.  
  6. Start with small, attainable goals; celebrate success, and then set bigger goals. This is the best way to stay on track with getting things done and feeling productive and accomplished. 
  7. Think about how you might reward yourself for accomplishing steps along the path to achieving your goals and meeting your resolutions. Does the reward need to be tangible? Or will the intrinsic reward be the successful accomplishment of the goals you set? Most likely, it is a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement.

Remember that making New Year's resolutions is intended to be fun and productive. If it begins to feel laborious or discouraging, it might be time to reevaluate your goals. Making it a positive experience will encourage you to make more resolutions and said more goals in the future.