Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions (No Willpower Required)

Follow these five tips to reach your goals... finally!
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New Years Eve

How many times have you purchased a gym membership in January only to find that by February, your gym pass is mere decoration on your already cluttered keychain?

You don’t need us to tell you that New Year’s resolutions rarely stick.

The most common resolutions are exactly the ones you might expect: drink less alcohol, exercise more, lose weight, get a better job, quit smoking, save money, stress less. If following them were fun or easy, they wouldn’t show up on your list year after disgruntled year.

But there’s a secret you didn’t know last year: willpower won’t work.

“The reason we tend to have the same resolutions every year is that we rely too heavily on willpower,” says Heidi Grant Halverson, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.” “Somehow this is the year we’ll have the self-control not to eat sweets or to quit smoking. Willpower, even when you have a lot of it, is a fickle friend. It ebbs and flows throughout the day and is very much a limited resource.”

By learning these simple tricks to take willpower out of the equation, you can check those ever-elusive goals off your to-do list once and for all.

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Start small. Optimism is great, but a too-ambitious goal will be in the trash by mid-January. “You need to ease into your resolutions,” says YouBeauty Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D., author of “Smart Thinking.” “If you’ve never exercised before, you probably shouldn’t plan on running a marathon by the summer.” Each goal you tackle should feel manageable.

Halverson recommends breaking a goal down into bite-size pieces and tackling them one at a time. “If you want to eat better, start by eliminating one thing from your diet,” she says. “Willpower is like a muscle that grows with use, so you’ll find that as you’re doing it, it gets easier and easier—it becomes a new habit.” When you feel like you’ve got that down pat, start in on the next step.

Be specific. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, the English teachers’ mantra holds true: specific is terrific. “People who want to lose weight will say, ‘I plan to eat less and exercise more,’” says Halverson. “That’s really a terrible plan. What are you going to eat less of? How much less? If you’re going to work out more, how much more?”

When you set a goal, focus on how you plan to achieve it. Instead of saying “I’ll exercise more,” say, “I will go to the gym near my office on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at six o’clock.” One study found that people who planned the specific days and times they’d exercise each week were three times more likely to actually stick to the goal. At the end of the study, 32 percent of the people who didn’t make a plan were still exercising versus 91 percent of the people who did.

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4 thoughts on “Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions (No Willpower Required)

  1. My resolution 2014 was to loose some extra pounds and maintain a healthy BMI by avoiding junk food. I had strictly followed the diet monitored eating habit, exercise and all for 2-3 months, But after that just ignored it. Now I have crossed a healthy BMI . So I think this year also I am going to have same New year resolution.

  2. Atticus says:

    Thank you for this! I always have trouble sticking with my new years resolutions because I always want to complete them so quickly. Then I just end up burning out because I'm tired of committing to them. Maybe I should try taking some smaller steps, as you suggested.

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