How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

2012 is just around the corner, so it’s time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. A lot of us make them every year, but how often do we actually follow through on them? Here are some tips to ensure that by this time next year, you can be proud of what you’ve accomplished, instead of vowing guiltily to try the exact same ones all over again.

1. Be realistic. If you set a goal that you have no chance of meeting, you’re setting yourself up for failure. This isn’t to say you can’t think big, but if you can’t climb a flight of stairs without getting winded there’s not much chance that you’ll be running a marathon by May. Instead, sign yourself up for a 5K run/walk and vow to make it 10K by the end of the summer or next year. Likewise, swearing off getting into any fights on the internet probably isn’t gonna last long in an election year, but setting a goal to avoid reading comments on YouTube or news sites is much more realistic.

2. Don’t get guilted into setting goals you don’t want to meet. If you’re totally happy with your body, drinking habits, swearing, whatever, but your family or friends were giving you shit over the holidays, don’t feel obligated to listen to them. If you make a resolution that you have no interest in keeping, you won’t follow through and you’ll feel guilty for no reason. Only set goals that you want to do.

3. Make a concrete plan. It’s easy to say, “I’ll join a gym” or “I’ll stop ordering takeout every night,” but if you don’t make a real plan to follow, it’s hard to hold yourself accountable and accomplish anything. Why not try some of these substitutes, or come up with your own?

  • Instead of “I’m going to join a gym this year” (which takes 10 minutes of filling out paperwork and forking over the fee and then you have no obligation to actually go to the gym), say, “I’m going to work out X days a week.” Then look at your schedule and pencil in the times that work for you so that you know exactly what you need to do to make sure you stay committed. If you do join a gym and it offers a free session with a personal trainer or even just an orientation to show you how to use the equipment, take advantage of that so you can figure out what exercises you actually enjoy. If you don’t want to go to the gym, find a walking buddy, download yoga videos to do at home, buy some weights–whatever you like and will actually do.
  • Instead of making a nebulous plan to stay more organized or keep your house clean, set aside time to do each chore. Make sure that you have the supplies you need, figure out what needs to be done every day versus every week or two, and see what can be delegated to roommates or significant others. If you really want to get your ass kicked into gear, join Team Unfuck Your Habitat on tumblr, twitter, or Facebook; Persephone’s very own pileofmonkeys will have your house sparkling in no time.
  • Instead of just saying you want to cook more or order less takeout, decide to cook at least one new recipe a week or to try something you’ve never tasted. Buy cookbooks, ask your friends and family for recommendations, or bookmark recipes online and then make sure you add the ingredients you need to your weekly shopping list. You can find lots of free e-book cookbooks to read on your computer or phone even if you don’t own an e-reader. (And don’t forget the lentils!)
  • Instead of just vowing to be more fiscally responsible, take a look at your debt and assets and figure out what you need to do to improve your fiscal situation. If you want to pay off your credit cards, figure out which ones are charging you the highest interest rates and start putting extra money toward paying them down. If you want to save more, open a savings account and see how much you can set aside each week or month. If possible, have it taken out of each check automatically so that you aren’t tempted to blow the extra cash. If you need to cut back on your current expenses, track every dime you spend for a week or a month and see what you can cut out and what you absolutely won’t give up.
  • Instead of saying you’ll be more eco-friendly, figure out what you can change in your current patterns. The resolution I’ve stuck with the longest has been my 2010 vow to rinse out and reuse or recycle takeout containers instead of just pitching them in the trash. It was specific enough that it was easy to remember; even when I’m tired and don’t want to be bothered I almost always make myself do it. For you, it might be signing up for paperless statements from your bank, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or buying natural cleaning products.

4. Not every goal has to be a year-long project. Resolutions don’t have to be some epic task that will take 365 days of dedication to complete. Maybe you want to toss out your bathroom scale on the road to body acceptance. Maybe there’s a crush you want to finally get up the nerve to ask out. Do it!

5. Set up a support system. Resolutions are easier to keep if you have someone else going through the same thing to keep you on track. Some resolutions will be nearly impossible to keep without the cooperation of friends and family, so make sure they’re on board. The support system doesn’t even necessarily have to include people. Look for websites or apps to help you track your progress and stay motivated; these days you can find them for pretty much anything imaginable.

6. Don’t quit if you mess up, and feel free to modify your initial resolution. This may be the hardest one to keep, because you have to give yourself permission to fail. Resolutions don’t have to be all or nothing. Skipping one morning walk, having an extra cup of coffee if you’re trying to cut back on caffeine, or leaving the dishes in the sink for the night once does not mean you have to give up on the resolution. Forgive yourself and start over the next day, the next week, even later in the year if you can’t handle the changes temporarily. It’s okay to modify the resolution, too. If your initial resolution turns out to be too ambitious or burdensome, find a compromise that lets you keep working toward your final goal. You may not be able to give up smoking cold turkey, but you can find ways to cut back so that it’ll be easier to quit next time you try. You may be a miserable wretch without your morning coffee, but a smaller size or half-caf may help you cut back gradually or save money, or you can cut something else entirely. Volunteering every weekend may leave you exhausted, so do it once or twice a month. Don’t give up if your goal is harder than you thought; find a way to make it work for you.

7. Set at least one fun goal! Not every resolution needs to be burdensome or boring. Decide to read at least one non-serious book a month. Look for new music that you’ll enjoy. Learn a new craft or hobby, or sign up for a class you’ve always wanted to take. Try something that scares you, or be more adventurous. Cut out people or things that cause you stress, so you can use that energy in a more positive way. Try new restaurants or bars. Introduce yourself to new people. You’ll actually look forward to keeping resolutions that make your life more enjoyable, and it may make it easier to keep the ones that are less fun.

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[E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

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