Happy New Year! Welcome to 2021, which simply HAS to be better than 2020, am I right? Many people make New Year’s resolutions to ensure the coming year is better than the last. I’m no different. In fact, one could argue that the goals I make at the beginning of each year are, in and of themselves, resolutions. And they’d be right!
That being said, I see resolutions as different from annual goals. Resolutions are a bit more constant and personal. I’m resolving to change or improve a habit in my life – eat healthier, exercise a bit more, socialize more frequently, stick to a sleep schedule. Things I don’t do, but I know they’ll make me a better, happier person overall. Goals on the other hand, are things I want to achieve – big things, like launching a new business or buying a house.
Today, I’m going to give you my five tips for ensuring you stick to your New Year’s resolutions all year round. This isn’t a “here’s what you should set as your resolutions” piece. If you’re looking for resolutions inspiration, there are lists upon lists out there in the digital world. I just googled “New Year’s Resolutions” and the results are varied and vast. Good Housekeeping has “55+ Achievable New Year’s Resolutions for Healthier and Happier Living”; Life Hack has “50 New Year’s Resolution Ideas and How to Achieve Each of Them”; and Country Living shares “18 New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep.” Nothing there for you? Keep googling.
So, let’s get to it. Here are my five tips to stick to your New Year’s resolutions all year long.
#1 Make it personal
When you set resolutions that are important to you – not your spouse, mother, father, friend, sibling, neighbour, dog, anyone else – you’re more likely to stick to it throughout the year. Find something that’s important to you and resolve to do it. The most popular resolutions out there are about diet, health or exercise. These are popular for a reason, but if you don’t feel strongly about changing these things in your life, it’ll be that much harder to stick to your resolution.
Instead, think about all the things you’ve wanted to do throughout your life that have never changed. Maybe you have a strong desire to give back to the community somehow. You’ve just never felt like you had time, or maybe didn’t know how to go about doing that in the past. This is your time to shine! Resolve to volunteer more in 2021. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to try growing plants. Well, then, resolve to try growing one new plant. Make that happen, my friend.
When you set a resolution because that’s “what you should do” then you’re less likely to stick to it. When your resolution calls to you, it pulls you towards it, and helps you succeed.
#2 Start small
All my life, New Year’s resolutions have always been these big lifestyle changes. Whether it’s diet – No more junk food! – or lifestyle – No more social media! – these are all massive undertakings that can be difficult to do all in one go. Instead of cutting a big chunk out of your life, start small.
Make your resolution a progression – by the end of the year, I want to [insert resolution here]. Then spend the year working towards that ideal. If your goal is to stop eating junk food, then in January, your resolution is to cut back by 25%. Or pick one unhealthy food to cut out – maybe chips, or sugar-filled candy.
One year, I told myself I wanted to cut wheat-based foods out of my diet. This wasn’t a gluten allergy or anything. I’d stopped playing soccer three times a week and noticed my mostly-carb-based diet was making my clothes shrink. I tried going cold turkey (and even tried eating cold turkey!), but it didn’t work. I thought I’d failed and it stressed me out way more than it should (in turn leading me to eat more carbs because …. delicious).
The following year, I changed my resolution: I will switch my regular wheat-based foods for non-carb-based foods every time I can. That’s it. I exchanged bagels or toast breakfasts for hash browns. I swapped crackers for veggie chips or rice crackers. These little changes made enough of a difference. I didn’t NEED to make a sweeping “no wheat” resolution. I just needed to make this small change.
This built up into a larger lifestyle change. My diet changed overtime slowly and without me even noticing.
#3 Aim for everyday
Building a habit is hard. I know, I’ve tried. They say it takes 30 days of doing something every day to make it a habit. I can neither confirm nor deny this factoid (nor do I know who “they” actually are). All I know is that everyday is a lot. Especially if you’re doing something you don’t really like to do, like drink enough water (bland!) or exercise more (sweaty!).
Still, here I am. Telling you to aim for everyday. And I mean it. But not in the “do the full thing every single day without fail” type of way. I really do mean to AIM to do it every day. Write it down on your planner as a task, like any other task (bonus points if it’s your Clever Cactus planner!) Tell yourself it’s okay if you only do a fraction of what you want to do (see above re: start small).
Most of all, remind yourself that it’s okay if you don’t do it.
For example, let’s say your resolution is to write a daily journal. Well, if you write one sentence a day, you are, by definition, writing a journal, aren’t you? So, your task, every day, is to write one sentence. Any writer knows that you can’t write just ONE sentence. Once you start typing, it’ll inevitably end up being more. I call this “tricking my brain” into doing the thing.
When you AIM to do just a little bit of something everyday, you remove the binary “succeed/fail” thought process. First, because it’s an aim, not a must. If you don’t do it, that’s okay – you’ll do it tomorrow. Second, because the little bit of something is a lot easier to start doing than a lot of something. Your mind is free to do it at the speed you want. And every time you do The Thing, regardless of duration or quality, you are succeeding.
#4 Track yourself
Without tracking, it’s really easy to convince yourself that you’re not following your own resolution, even when you are. Tracking your resolution shows you what you’ve done. Proves to that nagging part of your mind that you are making progress.
Of course, tracking is also a double-edged sword in a way. On one hand, it’ll help you see how often you are doing something (good!). On the other hand, it becomes very obvious when you’re not doing something (yikes!). However, you shouldn’t let those empty days deter you from trying. If you’re looking back and you haven’t worked towards your resolution for a while, that’s a sure sign that there’s something about said activity that’s repulsive to you.
I read a story once about someone who didn’t brush their teeth everyday. They wanted to. They knew it’d be good for their dental health, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Then, one of their friends suggested that perhaps, the issue was the toothpaste flavour – the overpowering mint taste – and not the act of brushing itself. When this brushing-averse person switched to children’s toothpaste with its fruity flavours, that changed everything. Brushing wasn’t hard anymore.
When you track your new habits, you can see if/when you do or don’t do something. If there are long periods where you don’t do it, it gives you the opportunity to figure out your “mint toothpaste” and swap it out for “children’s toothpaste”. You can adjust your habits and try again. Never give up!
#5 Be kind to yourself
Making new habits is hard. Changing your lifestyle – even if it’s for your happiness! – is a challenge for everyone. The best and most important thing you can do while you work towards fostering new habits is to be kind to yourself.
Miss a day? Don’t beat yourself up! It’s decidedly not the end of the world. Do it tomorrow and keep moving forward.
Miss a week? Trust me, it happens to everyone. You’re still on track and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions.
Miss a month? Take a moment to figure out why you’re not doing the thing, and adjust to help you do the thing more often. You’ve got a whole year to make this New Year’s resolution happen!!
Miss half a year? You still haven’t failed. No really, you haven’t. It’s a New Year’s resolution after all – it’s something you’ve set for yourself and you can work towards it all year long.
My point is, you are your best cheerleader. Being kind to yourself helps you stick to your New Year’s resolution.