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How to make new year’s resolutions you can keep forever (5 effective tips beyond SMART goal setting)

Every December 30th, I compose a list of resolutions on a google doc for the new year and revise the ones from the year before. I kept failing to keep my resolutions and, either discarded them or put them on the list again. I’d promise to meditate every day or do strength training five times a week, but sometimes I wouldn’t even do it once. But the last three years I’ve kept all my goals.

I have a master’s in counseling and I study psychology so I applied some of the things I know about motivation, procrastination, and goal setting to my list and it worked. For the last three years, my husband and I meditate Monday through Friday; I lowered my blood pressure with interval training six times a week and wrote a novel in a year. These are the strategies I used. I hope they help you make resolutions and actually keep them for as long as you like.

Start by making a list of two to three, four is stretching it, resolutions as SMART goals. You’ve probably heard about this method which I will give a quick overview here. If you want to learn more, check out this blog by Sandra Gerth on how to set SMART writing goals.

1. SMART goals are Specific vs vague, so instead of “I will exercise more” I wrote, “I will do stationary bike twenty minutes a day Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays at 6:30 am.”

Measurable. A very common resolution is to save more money. But how do you measure it? A measurable goal is I will save a hundred dollars each month”

Achievable. “I will run a marathon by next month” is not achievable if I am out of shape; running a marathon takes time, training, and prep. Be realistic so you can succeed and build on that success. Running twenty minutes a day is achievable for a more sedentary person and you can build from there.”

Your goals should be Relevant, important to you. If the only reason you are making this resolution is that your partner has been nagging you, you are setting yourself to fail. Try a different goal that is important to you; something you want to achieve. Maybe it’s learning how to draw, or starting a volunteer group for a food bank.

Finally, it must be time-bound. “Learn to play guitar” will have you postponing. Instead, write “register for guitar lessons once a week by January 15th” or “play my first song on the guitar by June 2022” have deadlines.

In summary, write three goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

2. Write only positive goals because they help with motivation and keep us from rebelling against ourselves. Instead of “stop spending”, try “save twenty dollars each week”. “Eat only vegetables and salads on Mondays and Wednesdays” is more effective than “don’t eat meat”.

3. Be aware of the obstacles in yourself and your environment. Don't start a diet while on vacation or write a goal to exercise a week before having knee surgery. I hated doing the interval training on the stationary bike, the obstacle was boredom. I moved the bike to the living room and only watch my favorite guilty pleasure shows while doing bike. I find myself going over the time almost every day.

I struggled to do yoga because it took too much time to change, drive and take a two-hour class. I desired the benefits but I would pay for classes and rarely show up. Now I do a 30-minute video class every day in my PJs in my own home.

4. Motivate yourself. We are motivated when we do something we enjoy, that is self-directed and has meaning. If you find yourself unmotivated, ask yourself which of the last three is missing. Are you trying to force yourself to do something you hate? Try to find something you enjoy. If one of your goals is to exercise and you despise gyms but love to read, start a walking book club in your neighborhood. If you want to meditate but can’t stick to it alone, join a class or group or an online community. To stay motivated choose something enjoyable, self-directed, and meaningful.

5. Build on what you already do.

If your resolution is to create a new habit, tag it on to something you already do. For example, if you want to add push-ups to your routine but keep forgetting, do a set every time you brush your teeth.

The first habit I established was interval training. Once it became a routine, I added yoga and finally meditation. I adjusted my morning schedule and it is rare that I miss any of them.

I hope these tips help you write your resolutions and achieve all of them. May this year bring us all health, joy, love, and prosperity.

Share in the comments your resolutions or tips.

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