December  04,  2018

It’s that magical time of year. Holiday decorations illuminate yards. Businesses, television shows, and radio stations play seasonal music on repeat. A new year looms, and we’re starting to think about ways to better ourselves. Well, I’ve decided 2019 is my chance for a successful New Year’s resolution.

I know what you’re thinking. About 40 percent of Americans make resolutions and don’t fulfill them. In the past, I’ve been one of those people who promise to hit the gym or save a little more each month. But it doesn’t work out. Research on human behavior finds that the allure of self-improvement entices us to pursue these resolutions. But we all know, it’s not easy to keep them.

How do we maintain our New Year’s resolutions? There are social science tricks to keep us on track.

Make the beginning meaningful.

The name suggests that a resolution should begin on the first day of the new year. Well, you may not be ready to launch a plan to exercise more often or eat less sugar on January 1st. Research suggests you should start on a day that holds significance to you. If the beginning of January is out of reach, pick a notable date or another holiday, like Presidents’ Day, to get things going.

Speaking of the beginning, start strong.

Don’t let your resolution start with a whimper. Some research shows that intensity matters. Plan concrete ways to keep that resolution from the jump. For example, if I want to eat less dairy, I’ll make a grocery list that doesn’t include milk and yogurt. I’ll plan an entire month of homemade dinners and lunches that avoid cheese. When I’m ready to start my resolution, I’ve got a map to guide me.

Set the timer for one month.

Habits don’t form overnight. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to change behavior. Give yourself a full 31 days to test the new routine. No cheat days. No hiccups. At the end of the month, it’s time for reflection. How do you feel about the change? Is it sustainable? Is this bettering your life? You’ll need that full month to decide whether you want to continue pursuing the change.

Replace the old with the new.

Back to the dairy example. One way to eat less dairy is to find a replacement for it. Instead of buying cow’s milk for cereal, I might try almond or soy milk. Once you’ve decided on a resolution, find a substitute for the old behavior. Let’s say you want to get rid of nail biting. Research suggests you should find something to put in place of the old habit as you try to break it.

Set little wins.

Plan small, obtainable goals during that first month of resolution-ing. For example, if I make it through the first week of the month without milk, I’ll treat myself to a new book. Think about how to encourage yourself one day or one week at a time. Often, resolutions are large, lofty goals that seem like too far a stretch. If you plan small victories along the way, you’ll have some instant gratification to push you along.

Go into the upcoming year with a plan for your resolution. If you try to wing it, you’ll most likely join the millions of Americans who don’t meet their goals.