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December 7, 2016

Making a New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep

A New Year’s resolution is a promise a person makes for the New Year. Regardless of what resolution you commit to, the goal is to improve life in the coming year. Resolutions can come in many forms. Some people make a promise to change a bad habit, such as quitting smoking or eating less junk food. Other people make a promise to develop a positive habit, such as starting an exercise program, volunteering in their community, or recycling more. The tradition of New Year’s resolutions dates all the way back to 153 B.C. January is named after Janus, a mythical god of early Rome. Janus had two faces — one looking forward, one looking backward. This allowed him to look back on the past and forward toward the future. On December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking backward into the old year and forward into the New Year. This became a symbolic time for Romans to make resolutions for the New Year and forgive enemies for troubles in the past. The Romans also believed Janus could forgive them for their wrongdoings in the previous year. The Romans would give gifts and make promises, believing Janus would see this and bless them in the year ahead. And thus the New Year’s resolution was born!

TIME magazine recently featured seven tips for making your New Year’s resolution stick. Unlike most goal-setting advice, these tackle your resolutions from a psychological perspective, helping you to alter your mindset for lasting success.

1. Start on a Monday

Monday is the most popular day of the week for starting a diet or quitting smoking, and for good reason. It’s easier to commit to a goal when it’s started with a concrete benchmark in mind. New Year’s Day is a good one, but Monday, the fresh start of a new week, is also effective. According to The Monday Campaigns: “Research conducted by Johns Hopkins concludes that health promotions utilizing weekly periodicity and the unique cultural associations of Monday as the beginning of the week have the potential to positively affect a range of healthy behaviors. People view Monday as a day for a fresh start and are more likely to starts diets and exercise regimes, quit smoking and schedule doctor’s appointments on Monday than any other day. And a Monday start helps them carry out their healthy intentions for the week.”

2. Make an Actual Plan

Your good intentions probably aren’t enough. You need a concrete plan in place on how you’re going to achieve your resolution; those who make such a plan have far more success. Ironically, upcoming research in the journal Behavioral Science and Policy found that the more you want a goal, the less you’re likely to plan for it. Now that you know this bias exists, you can use it to your advantage and counteract it with a set plan.

3. Nix Your Backup Plan

People who have a “plan B” are less likely to attain their original objectives, perhaps because using a backup plan seems less like a failure and more like a reasonable alternative. Do yourself a favor and avoid giving yourself this option.

4. Choose a Round Number for a Goal

Let’s say you want to lose weight or increase your salary. Choosing a round, even number (such as 20 pounds or $400 a month) may work in your favor. Research in marathon runners suggests that “individuals evaluate outcomes as gains or losses relative to a neutral reference point.” In the case of a four-hour marathon, runners who thought they might go over the four-hour mark sped up considerably at the very end of the race in order to come in under this reference point. Those who thought they would easily meet the four-hour goal slowed down at the end of the race instead. It stands to reason that this theory might work for other goals, too, and setting a round number goal might make you work harder when you get close to the proverbial finish line.

5. Make a Monetary Commitment

People who agreed to pay cash if they didn’t meet their weight-loss goals lost 14 more pounds than those without a financial incentive. You can apply this to any resolution, but if getting fit is your goal, try the free GymPact app. First, you set goals, such as how many times you’ll go to the gym in a week, as well as set a monetary amount you’d be willing to pay if you don’t. If you reach your goals, you earn a cash reward. If you don’t, you “donate” your money to a community pot that pays others who reach their goals.

6. Break Your Goal into Manageable Parts

Making one massive goal can be overwhelming to the point that you don’t know where to start. Breaking larger goals down into smaller parts makes them easier to achieve and is more gratifying, as you can check off each achievement as it occurs. For example, if your goal is to donate 100 hours to volunteer work this year; break it down into about two hours a week instead.

7. Use Your Willpower Wisely

Willpower is like a muscle in that you can only use it so much before you need to give it time to rest and recover. This is why you may have a harder time sticking to your goals at the end of the day, after you’ve already been putting your willower to the test all day long. In order to better resist temptations and keep your resolution, do your more challenging tasks first thing in the day when your willpower is fresh.

I would also add an eighth one, which would be perseverance. You need to stick with it for at least three months. Once you hit the 90-day window you can be virtually assured that unless you have some catastrophe you have created a lifelong habit.