How to make New Year’s resolutions that matter – And that you’ll actually keep

Do you remember all those New Year’s resolutions you made last year? Do you even want to remember? For many of us, thinking about last year’s self-promises just reminds us of our failure to achieve them.

This year, once again, about half of all Australians will make one or more New Year’s resolutions – and once again, only 12 per cent of those will stick to them . An 88 per cent failure rate begs the question: why do we even bother? Why do we keep saying “this year will be different”?

We bother because some of us will succeed in the changes we want to make – and those changes can make our lives better.

What you did or didn’t achieve last year is history: it has no bearing on what you can accomplish this year. The appeal of a New Year’s resolution is that it offers a fresh start and a clean slate.

It’s never too late to become who you want to be. But it takes work, and this is where so many resolutions fall down.

It’s easier to state your noble intentions than to follow through on them. So here are some tips to help you turn those hopeful pronouncements into positive action this year:

1. Ditch The Vague & Embrace The Specific

As you attend December’s booze-soaked Christmas parties and hop from one gluttonous feast to another, it’s easy to feel like your body is being pushed to the limit. This is when hazy ideas for New Year’s resolutions start to form: “Starting in January, I’m going on a diet”. “Next week, I’m cutting back on all this drinking.” Or, as you attend to summer gardening chores, you realise you haven’t cleaned out your shed since 1997. “I must get to that soon”, you promise yourself.

The problem with these types of resolutions is that they’re too vague. For resolutions to succeed, you have to be ultra-specific about both the parameters and the time frames for completion. Be definite and precise, not wishful and open-ended.

“I’m going to get in shape this year” is pretty meaningless, whereas “I’m going to walk 50 minutes a day, 4 days a week for the next 6 months” gives you a specific target to aim for. “I will lose 15 kilos by April 9th” is a great start (at least there’s a goalpost in sight), but it’s not enough.

Tired after sport training

You must be clear about how you plan to achieve this. A more focused resolution would be: “I’m going to cut out all soft drinks, chips and takeaway chicken wings for the next eight months, and will eat at least five vegetables with every dinner”.

2. Pick A Start Time That Makes Sense

Give yourself a week or more to recover from end-of-year stresses before you start in with resolutions.

Let’s face it – the holiday season can be exhausting. With all that Christmas shopping, meal preparation, socialising and coping with your relatives, by the time January arrives, the last thing you need is to initiate a big lifestyle change.

Give yourself a week or more to recover from end-of-year stresses before you start in with resolutions. Your chance of success will increase if you wait until you’re rested and enthusiastic.

You may decide it’s best to wait until the kids are back at school or until you’ve returned to your normal work routine. And there’s no law that says you’ve got to wait until the waning days of December to set goals, either. Get a jump on your resolutions by tackling them in September or November. Start whenever you’re ready.

3. Go For Smaller Goals – And Less Of Them

For many people, one resolution at a time is more than enough, especially if it’s a difficult challenge. While you might be able to finally kick your smoking habit this year, you won’t get there if you pile too many additional goals on top of it (weight loss, starting your own business, volunteering at a local charity, becoming fluent in Portuguese, etc.).

Know the difference between idealistic goals and achievable goals. Before you go in at full throttle, try a two-week trial run to test the waters.

When you bite off more than you can chew with New Year’s resolutions, you tend to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the tasks in front of you.

Make your goals unconditional and definite. Firmly say “I won’t do any gambling this year – end of story.” Don’t say “I won’t do any gambling this year, unless I get really bored or lonely, or my spouse gets on my nerves, or I need an outlet for my frustrations, or I find I have an extra twenty bucks in my pocket that’s not doing anything.”

Make your resolutions excuse-free.

Be the tortoise, not the hare. But be a very determined tortoise with a clear finish line in sight.

If you’re addicted to an online game and have started to realise it’s making you antisocial and physically unfit, ease away from it gradually rather than going cold turkey. If you’re staring at that screen 5 hours a day, get a timer with an alarm and aim to reduce your gaming incrementally until you’ve reached the point where you can happily go a whole week without needing your ‘fix’.

Old habits, whatever they are, need a concerted effort to break, so don’t take too much on in your post-Christmas enthusiasm for drastic lifestyle changes.

Be the tortoise, not the hare. But be a very determined tortoise with a clear finish line in sight.

If you try to fight bad habits with will power alone, you’ll find it very tough going. The trick is to replace them with good habits than are realistic, measurable and can be achieved within the existing framework of your current lifestyle.

4. It Doesn’t Have To Be About You

Most New Year’s resolutions are about improving your own life, and that’s a worthy aspiration. But your goal doesn’t need to be self-focused. Here are just a few New Year’s resolutions that can make a difference to someone else’s life in a positive way (and make you feel better too):

Become An Organ Donor

At any given time, there are around 1600 Aussies on organ transplant lists. Some of them will die waiting for the donated organ that could have saved their lives. Organ or tissue transplants can mean a second chance or improved quality of life for those in need.

Registering your consent for organ donation is as easy as filling out a brief online form. You can find out all about organ donation on the Department of Human Services website.

Learn First Aid and CPR

If you see someone choking in a restaurant, bleeding from a wound after a road smash or unconscious after being pulled from a swimming pool, do you know how to help? First aid training isn’t expensive and doesn’t take much time, but it can make the difference between life and death for someone in trouble – whether that person is a complete stranger, a co-worker or a member of your family.

CPR training with defibrillatior

Go online to find a suitable first aid course in your local area. You’ll find basic courses and more advanced training for specific purposes (remote wilderness first aid, asthma and anaphylaxis training, etc.). These can give you the confidence and skills you need to render help in an emergency.

Donate Your Unwanted Goods To Charity

A New Year’s resolution to give away your extra possessions is a winner all round. You get to improve the life of someone who is less fortunate than yourself and you get to de-clutter your world at the same time. You can give away all sorts of things: books, bicycles, clothing, food, furniture and electronic gadgets – anything you no longer need that’s still in good condition.

Got some spare sporting equipment sitting around the house? Donate it to where it will be redistributed to disadvantaged sporting teams across Australia.

How about old blankets or newspaper you’d like to get rid of? Don’t throw them out – your local RSPCA animal shelter would love to have them.

Sponsor A Child

It’s not just children overseas that can use financial help with basic needs.

It’s not just children overseas that can use financial help with basic needs.

According to The Smith Family, over 630,000 Australian children live in disadvantage, with their families struggling to pay for basic educational essentials like a proper school uniform, books, shoes or extra-curricular activities like sporting programs or school excursions .

By supporting the schooling of a disadvantaged child you also provide an emotional boost and encouragement – they’ll know somebody out there cares enough to help them have a better future.

5. Expect Setbacks And Use Them For Motivation

Along the way to achieving your New Year’s resolution, don’t use slip-ups as an “it’s just too hard” excuse.

In any race, it’s not how often you fall down that matters – it’s how you react after you get up. You’ll always have a few stumbling blocks on the road to tangible lifestyle changes. These aren’t the end of the world.

The only real failure is not trying in the first place. If you can succeed despite all the obstacles that appear in your path, the victory at the end will be that much sweeter.

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Keep visualising the end result – it’s a great way to stay focused. Think about how your new fitness level will allow you to run around the park with your kids. Think about how amazed your friends will be when they find out you can play the banjo or dance the tango. Think about how your life will change once you open your own ecommerce store, paddle a canoe down the Yukon or live overseas for a full year.

Don’t focus on the tunnel; focus on the light at the end of it.

6. Measure Your Progress

Use a calendar, checklist or ‘resolution journal’ to mark off your achievements.

There’s a saying in the marketing industry: ‘data trumps guesswork every time’. What it means is that you can never know you’re winning unless you carefully measure your successes and failures along the way. This takes assumptions completely out of the equation.

If your resolution involves performing a specific activity each day, keep track of how much time you spend getting it done. Then mark each ‘success day’ off on the calendar with an X. Keep those X-marks coming so there is never a space between them.

Use a calendar, checklist or ‘resolution journal’ to mark off your achievements. What happens if you’re sick for a few days or other circumstances prevent you from staying on track with your goals? Well, you can either just let it slide or go gung-ho and do ‘double days’ to make up for lost time, keeping your chain of calendar X-marks unbroken (well, sort of).

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When it comes to fitness, weight loss and many other health-related goals, there are plenty of apps on the market that provide helpful advice along the way and help you monitor your progress.

7. Don’t Be A Solo Hero

Most of us tend to make better progress if we have a friend to help keep us firmly on course.

Some people believe that by telling their friends and family about their resolutions, they’ll be more inclined to see them through (the extra-guilt-if-you-fail factor). Another ploy is to find an ‘accountability buddy’ who partners up with you to provide encouragement, cajoling, non-judgmental support or even direct participation in the same goal.

Most of us tend to make better progress if we have a friend to help keep us firmly on course. Support can come from the cyber world, too. By planning ahead, studying statistics and reading about the problems others have with the same goals, you’ll feel less isolated as you pursue your objectives.

If you are getting a fitness band to help measure how you are progressing with your new years resolution, check out our articled called Is Your Fitness Band About Fitness Or Fad.

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