6 Tips for New Year's Resolution Success

12/29/2008 (last updated: 08/24/2009 11:24)
Johnny Kuo

The New Year brings the promise of change and a fresh start. The New Year provides a perfect opportunity for making self-improvement resolutions. Unfortunately, it is all too common for enthusiasm and determination to quickly fade and for resolutions to become failed promises. Many people successfully complete their resolutions, but many people do not. What separates success from failure has little to do with willpower, discipline, or super human abilitites. Rather, it has more to do with suboptimal vs. effective strategies. Achieving your New Year's resolutions is quite achievable with a well-layed out and readily actionable plan. Here are a few tips for ensuring your New Year's resolution success:

  1. fire twirlingFrame the goal in positive terms.

    Too many resolutions are framed in negative terms: lose weight, stop smoking, don't waste money, etc. Starting with your goal phrased in negative terminology gets you started on the wrong foot. It is easier to achieve goals which are framed in positive terms, like do more exercise or drink more water. The nature of some resolutions (like "lose weight" or "stop smoking") are inherently framed in negative terms because they require subtracting or doing less of something. However, it is still possible to indirectly re-frame these negative resolutions in positive terms; we can instead choose positive goals which achieve a similar effect by crowding out the thing you want decreased. For example, instead of thinking of the goal of "losing weight", focus on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, doing consistent exercise, drinking water more regularly, etc. While indirectly related to the original goal of losing weight, these positively framed sibling goals achieve the same effect and crowd out the undesired habits (like eating junk food, being sedentary, etc) which hinder progress towards the original goal.

  2. Attach personal significance to the goal.

    If achieving a goal has a deep personal meaning for you, you're far more likely to achieve that goal. If you want to lose weight, ponder exactly why you want to lose weight. Maybe you're going back to your high school re-union in several months and want to make sure you look good by then. It's a vain reason, but that's perfectly acceptable because you've attached a personal significance to your resolution. Another example could be the goal of getting fit. Getting fit just because you hear it's a good thing to do ensures lack of interest and eventual failure. Deciding that being fit allows you to more fully interact with your kids or gives you more vibrancy in enjoying life, on the other hand, brings more personal relevance to the resolution and vastly improves your chances of success. Reflect on the goal and give it personal meaning before deciding on a New Year's resolution.

  3. Aim high, then divide and conquer.

    Feel free to shoot for the sky with your resolution, even if it seems out of the realm of practicality. Setting your sights too low ironically makes it less likely that you'll achieve your goal. To make sure you stay well grounded in reality and come up with an actionable plan, set achievable milestones on the way to the lofty goal. Divide the end goal into smaller tasks which you can conquer one by one. You'll have a better sense of accomplishment completing the mini sub-goals and make good progress towards your ultimate goal along the way. I've personally used this approach in one of my fitness goals. I wanted to become more cardiovascularly fit and proficient at jumping rope. I couldn't even skip the rope for 15 seconds when I first started. I set mini milestones upping my jumping time and learning new stepping patterns (crossover, jog in pace, double unders, etc). Seven months later, I could do 20 minutes of jump rope and had learned an assortment of trick steps to make it look I'd been jumping rope for ages.

  4. Train consistency.

    Most New Year's resolution involve a lifestyle or behavior change. The key to success at incorporating a change into your life is to develop habits and routines (prefereably daily) reflecting the desired change. If you want to have a better diet, you have to make it a point to eat healthy foods as consistently as possible. You can't decide on a whim to do it one week and then not the next. This can be a difficult adjustment if the goal involves a radical shift in your daily routine (like eating vegetarian when you've been a carnivore your entire life); in these cases it's best to start with smaller milestones (like eating vegetarian twice a week). The crucial element for success is consistency.

    If you don't commit to doing something regularly, you're far more likely to deprioritize and forget about it. The task can be initially daunting, but you can first approach it as a 30 day challenge. Committing to do something for 30 days makes the change seem more palatable. By the time you've conquered those first 30 days, you're already well on your way to making your goal an integral part of your life.

  5. Keep a journal.

    Religiously write down everything you've done to make progress on your resolution, no matter how small the accomplishment. Having a written record will keep you honest about staying consistent and give you a way to track your progress. As an added bonus, seeing a chain of days with a written record can maintain your motivation by keeping your mindset positive; you can see what you've accomplished instead of focusing too much on what still needs to be done.

  6. Forgive yourself.

    Finally and most importantly, you should not beat yourself over the head and give up on your resolution just because you've missed a day at the gym, cheated on your diet, or made a minor regression. No one is perfect, and there will be times when you're forced to do things contrary to your desired goal. Life is a journey with roadblocks; most of the challenge in achieving a goal is shrugging off the temporary hindrances and working around challenges. So what if you've had a temporary setback in progressing towards your resolution? In the worst case, that means you need to re-evaluate your plan of action. More likely, you can just realize that you're only human and continue where you left off.

The New Year brings promise of change of self-improvement. Hopefully these tips will help ensure your New Year's resolution success in 2009.

Johnny Kuo is an I-Liq Chuan martial arts instructor and a health and fitness enthusiast. Originally trained as a biologist and then a biomedical engineer, he has been a medical imaging researcher, tai chi teacher, software developer, research engineer, and freelance web developer.