Let this year be your year.
As another year goes by, we often mark the occasion by reflecting on our past and considering our future. And, as is custom, we look to make changes in our lives: resolutions.
The New Year gives us a benchmark for our goals—a chance to evaluate where we are as people and develop plans for personal growth. It’s a starting point for what we want to do with our lives.
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions goes back to the ancient Babylonians, who resolved to do things like return borrowed farm equipment.
Today, resolutions can take many forms, but they generally speak to self-improvement, whether that means getting a new job, volunteering, losing weight, earning a degree or quitting smoking.
You might hope to make incremental improvements or sweeping changes in your life. But at the end of the day, it’s about one thing: A new you.
Still, the act of making a resolution says something about you.
“The fact that people keep making resolutions even when they don’t always follow through ultimately means that they have hope and a certain level of belief in their ability to change and be more of who they really want to be,” Nona Jordan, a business coach, told PsychCentral.
Finding that “new you” is a process—you don’t make a resolution and wake up completely different on Jan. 1. Sticking to a resolution, even a simple one, is a progression that requires a plan.
When you make your resolution, you need to take the long view if you mean to stick with it. Experts gave TIME a few tips for keeping your resolution. We’ll examine them below.
Keep it real
Being honest with yourself is a key component to maintaining your resolution.
This means not cheating yourself and staying on track to complete your goal. It’s easy to slip once, and then again… and again.
You’ll encounter hurdles along the way:
- A fast-food craving
- A class you’re struggling with
- A workout you missed
- A deadline that passed
Don’t let a hiccup in your plans derail your resolution. It takes time to develop good habits and make real changes in your life.
Test it out
The theory here says you should try to implement your resolution for a shorter period, see how it goes and make adjustments from there.
You’ve probably heard that it’s hard to quit cold turkey. And that’s true, over the long run. But if you can make it a day, a week, a month—whatever makes sense—you’ll be able to keep it up.
The TIME article uses the example of someone who wants to cut back on drinking alcohol: if you can abstain for a month, you’ll have a much easier time cutting back in general.
Meditate on it
“Between stimulus and response, there’s a space, and in that space is our power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and freedom. Mindfulness gets you into that space.”
That’s according to Alan Marlatt, director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, in the TIME post.
Being mindful of your resolution is a big part of achieving success. It doesn’t have to be traditional meditation—sitting cross-legged and breathing purposefully—but you can help sustain your efforts by reminding yourself of your goals and following through.
Focus on the good (not the bad)
Research shows that you’re more likely to maintain good habits if you emphasize the benefits of what you’re doing rather than the downside.
Sure, going to college is a challenge, but if you look toward your career goals and don’t dwell on a tough test, you’ll have a better chance at reaching long-term success.
If you slip up on your resolution, just chalk it up as a small defeat and continue to move forward. There’s no sense in beating yourself up when changing for the better is the ultimate goal.
Friend and un-friend
Your friend groups can go a long way toward determining your success with a resolution.
If you hang around smokers, you’re more likely to smoke. If you spend time with workout enthusiasts, you’re more likely to hit the gym.
That social support is key, Stanton Peele, author of “Seven Tools to Beat Addiction,” told TIME.
“Make sure that people you hang out with are people who look and act the way you would like to. Social imitation is the easiest form not only of flattery but of self-improvement,” he said.
Tips for Keeping Your Resolution
Below, we have a list of popular New Year’s resolutions from USA.gov.
Chances are, your resolution falls under one of these categories, and we have quick tips for each.
Drink less alcohol
Tip: Avoid situations in which you’ll feel pressured to drink; parties, bars or nights out with friends can prompt overindulging.
Tip: Shop at the grocery store instead of going out; look to the food pyramid for what to eat; keep a food log.
Get a better education
Tip: Think of the career first, then what type of education you’ll need to get there.
Get a better job
Tip: Work your social circles for networking opportunities, find out if you need additional schooling and learn how to market yourself.
Tip: Start with light weights and work in cardio as you get stronger, and try to keep on schedule.
Tip: Track your progress using an application, but only weigh yourself once a week so you don’t obsess over it.
Tip: Learn how to say no; be willing to compromise; work on your time management.
Tip: Try to avoid things that prompt you to smoke (perhaps coffee or alcohol), give yourself a limit and stick to it, and gradually pare down your smoking.
Reduce, reuse and recycle
Tip: Get creative with reusing items; find a good spot for recycling; turn off lights and walk instead of driving.
Tip: Make a spreadsheet that tracks your spending, determine where you can cut back and pay off debt.
Take a trip
Tip: Plan, save and execute, or think of “staycation” places you can visit.
Tip: Research for opportunities in your area and find something that looks fun to you.
Doing the Right Thing
No matter what you resolve to do in 2015, make a concerted effort to change.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Motivation, planning and consistency are keys to making and keeping your resolution. Do something today for which you can thank yourself tomorrow.
The New Year marks a time of change, growth and new beginnings. We look to the calendar as a starting point for the change in ourselves, whether it’s finally going back to school, getting in shape or finding a new job.
New Year’s resolutions are about change, which can be a frightening prospect. But if we recognize the value of change, and embrace it, we can move forward with the improvements we want to see in our lives and ourselves.
Make this year your year.