Secrets of Effective New Year's Resolutions

Let's face it: Too often, our New Year's resolutions are toothless fairytales that quickly fall by the wayside, abandoned long before February rolls around. The good news is that it needn't be this way.
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new year resolution marked in a ...
new year resolution marked in a ...

With the advent of the new year comes that time-honored tradition: New Year's resolutions. Sadly, this also means that January is typically a month of failure. According to statistics, as few as 8 percent of all resolutions are successfully attained.

So it's no wonder that many of us feel that New Year's resolutions are a hackneyed cliché -- almost all of us have experienced crushing failure. This year, the most frequent statement I've heard is, "My New Year's resolution is not to have any resolutions." In light of the evidence, this seems entirely reasonable. Let's face it: Too often, our New Year's resolutions are toothless fairytales that quickly fall by the wayside, abandoned long before February rolls around.

The good news is that it needn't be this way, we can successfully achieve our New Year's goals -- all we need is the right mindset and an effective step-by-step strategy.

The new year can and should represent an opportunity for improvement, renewal, or a fresh start. The new year is both an enduring spiritual metaphor and a concrete opportunity...if we combine the right attitude with effective implementation. Properly done, the new year is a wonderful time to effect some major change in our lives.

Here are some quick and effective ways to dramatically improve your odds of success and ensure that you get the new year off to the best possible start:

1. Choose just one resolution on which to focus -- certainly no more than two (but only if you must). It's simply too hard to give adequate attention and energy to multiple significant changes at the same time. The more we divide our mental forces, the more likely we are to fail.

2. If you've already chosen your New Year's resolution, skip to the next guideline. If not, here's how you can hone in on the best resolution for you.

Begin by taking a few minutes of quiet time. Clear your mind from all distractions. Get something to write with (pen and paper, a computer, an app on your phone) and allow your mind to free associate.

What kinds of changes would you like to make in your life right now? List everything that comes to you in any order or however random or even ridiculous. After you've compiled a list, review it, see if anything immediately draws your focus.

If it's still a jumble, give yourself up to 24 hours to mull it over. While you go through your day's activities, see if you notice your mind returning to a particular possibility. If after 24 hours of reflection, no single resolution has grabbed your attention, proceed (for now) with your entire list of resolutions. For the moment, you're going to begin implementing them all. As January unfolds, you'll gravitate towards those which truly hold your interest. The others will fall naturally by the wayside, leaving you just one or two that will become now have your full focus.

3. Take some time to fully imagine your chosen resolution. Visualize what it would mean if your resolution is attained, what the final shining goal would look and feel like. For example, if your resolution is to lose weight, visualize the new, slimmed-down you -- and all the positive benefits that will accrue to you by having achieved it. Get the mental image of success very clear in your mind. You can also journal or draw about it if that suits your temperament.

4. Make a vow that you won't quit short of attainment, that you'll do everything possible to fulfill this resolution. Mainstream scientific research demonstrates that making a formal vow helps ensure success. The best kind of vow is made both on the personal, spiritual level -- to God, your higher self, the universe, or whatever spiritual language resonates with you -- and to the public, either your friends and family or even a broader group of acquaintances. The more people you let know about your goal (if you feel comfortable sharing), the better. Tell people about it. Post it on Facebook. Tweet it. Blog about it. Write a an open letter -- however you prefer to communicate. Doing this not only helps you clarify and visualize your goal, but research shows that the public commitment and support that comes from others helps you achieve your resolution. If you don't want to make your vow public, that's fine, too. At least make a strong private vow to yourself or the divine.

5. Break your resolution into smaller, achievable sub-goals. Using the example of weight loss, the first thing you might do is decide exactly how much weight you want to lose. Next, make a concrete plan for achieving that goal. Which diet, if any, will you follow? What do you need to learn or how do you get signed up for that program? What intermediate steps need to be taken? How much weight do you want to lose how quickly? Buy a scale to measure your progress. Clean out all the food in your house that doesn't fit this diet. Get a gym membership or buy one piece of exercise equipment for your house or a new pair of running shoes.

No matter what your resolution, there are always sub-goals and definite steps that are required to achieve it. Each step should feel bite-sized and achievable. The more specific and clear you are, the greater your chance of success.

6. Track your progress. Using our example of losing weight, write down in a journal or app your weekly weight. If you're trying to cut out drinking or swearing, track how many times a day you drink or swear. If you're trying to be nicer, log your nice actions or interactions and your "mean" ones. If your goal is to meditate every day or go to church every week, track that. Whatever your resolution, think of some way to track and measure your progress. Don't be too free-form or vague. The less clear you are and the fewer sub-goals you've created to measure your progress, the less likely you'll stay on course.

7. Take time every day to remind yourself of your goal, ideally at the same time each day such as first thing upon waking, while brushing your teeth, or right before bed. Briefly re-visualize your goal, making a conscious effort to reconnect with whatever inspired or motivated you to choose it in the first place. You have to stay constantly vigilant and inspired. You can't just do this once at the beginning of January and expect the distant memory your initial enthusiasm to carry you through for weeks, months, or years. You've got to constantly reinvigorate yourself.

8. Focus on the joy intrinsic to the process of achieving your goal. In our weight loss example, we might celebrate each pound lost, marveling at our new body as it takes shape. Or remind ourselves of the benefits of exercise, the rush of endorphins, the newfound feeling of endurance or fitness. In other words, monitor your inner dialogue. If you tell yourself you hate eating less or loathe exercising, you undermine your chance of success. Instead, dwell on the positive benefits of what you're doing.

9. Lock in your gains. You might notice genuine progress even if you haven't yet fully achieved your goal. Perhaps you've lost two of the six inches around your waist. Though you are still working towards your main goal, now might be a good time to visit a tailor and have at least some of your pants taken in the two inches you've lost. Or throw out some of your "fat pants" that you hope to never wear again. Find some way to consolidate your gains even as you're still progressing. This will reinforce your achievement and encourage you forward. Doing so also helps prevent backsliding. If you've had your tailor remove two inches from the waist of your paints, if next month you notice that they're starting to feel tight again, you've now got an early warning that you're in danger of backsliding. You can catch and fix the situation before it spins out of control. For less physical goals, you can also ask others for feedback. Have a spouse, friend, or family member tell you if your attitude is backsliding or set up some other kind of warning system.

10. Remember to celebrate your success! Think about and plan for that day that your New Year's resolution comes to fruition. Consider rewarding yourself for attaining your goal and a job well-done. Using our weight loss example, you might want to imagine and plan a non-food reward, perhaps some new clothes or maybe a beach vacation to show off your new body. It needn't be grandiose or expensive, just something personally meaningful or enjoyable. It can be virtually anything except a "reward" that undermines your resolution. If you are losing weight, don't reward yourself with a fancy 20-course gourmet meal at a five-star restaurant. That might sound exciting and fun in the short term (especially if you're starving right now!), but in the long run it might trigger a backslide.

Most importantly, notice that none of these steps are particularly difficult. You can achieve your New Year's resolution. The key is just getting in the right mindset and knowing the concrete steps to take. Now is a wonderful time to make at least one positive life change. Don't miss the opportunity. You can do it.

Best wishes! May 2013 be your best year yet!

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