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How to make and keep your New Year’s resolution

To make a New Year’s resolution you can stick to, use these tips and strategies from mental health and fitness experts to reach your goal.

It’s almost time for another year — which means it’s time to start thinking about how to make New Year’s resolutions (and keep them, too).

Why do so many people spend the first few days of January breaking a bad habit or starting a new routine?

“The close of the previous year and the beginning of the new one is generally a good place to start resolving resolutions because it’s a transition point,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist in Beverly Hills and author of The self-aware parent. “Transitions mean letting go of the old and beginning the new.”

To make the kind of New Year’s resolution you can stick to, pick one that you really want to work towards. Then find out how to turn your goal into a habit, reward your successes, and be ready to adjust your goal as the year progresses.

Here’s how to create New Year’s resolutions that will last the whole year – and maybe the rest of your life.

In this article:

Make an action-based solution that reflects a core value

What kind of New Year’s resolution are you most likely to achieve? According to mental health and fitness experts, it’s a good idea to set positive, action-based ones that reflect your core values.

For example, if you want to improve your health and fitness in the coming year, it is better to choose a solution centered around how you feel in your body than one bound to a clothing size or a number on a scale. “A successful fitness goal is one of intrinsic value,” explains Angela Leigh, senior director of talent at audio fitness app Aaptiv. “Weight is a number. How you feel about your weight is more relevant to your emotional health.”

In other words: Instead of resolving to lose weight, resolve to exercise at least 45 minutes three times a week and stock your fridge with healthy foods. Instead of resolving to sleep at least seven hours each night, resolve to give yourself eight hours of sleep, six days a week.

Do you see the difference? These resolutions—the kind that are based on actions you can take, not outcomes that are hard to control—will improve your life regardless of whether you hit a specific number (pounds, reps, hours of sleep, dollars saved, etc.) ). You’ll feel good because you made positive, health-affirming choices that can help reduce stress, not bad because you didn’t reach some arbitrary numerical goal.

Finally, make sure your resolutions reflect what you will do this year, not what you habit do. “I will pack my lunch three times a week” is better than “I will stop buying lunch at work.” As Walfish puts it: “These are things we’re excited to do this year, things we’ll be so proud to have accomplished, things that will make our lives better, more interesting, more stable, more fun.”

Plan how you will achieve your goal

Your resolution is only as good as your plan of action. If you want to spend more time exercising, for example, should you exercise in the morning or in the evening? You won’t know until you take a look at your schedule and start setting aside time for your new exercise habit—and as Leigh reminds us, spending more time working out can mean you spend less time doing anything else .

So get strategic about working towards your goal. Decide what to do and, if necessary, decide what to give up to ensure it gets done. “You can’t just decide to change without a long-term plan and a safety net in place,” says Walfish.

That’s true whether you’re hoping to rebuild your life, practice meditation, start a new hobby, or host a weekly family game night. You need a plan to reach your goal, and then you need a contingency plan to implement when life gets in the way.

Here’s Leigh’s example of a contingency plan for people trying to maintain healthy eating habits: “If you know you’re going to fall in social situations when it comes to food or alcohol consumption, eat before meeting your friends or skip alcohol altogether.”

Depending on your resolution, you may want to start cooking in bulk to anticipate nights when you’re too busy to cook dinner. Or use a great at-home exercise program, like Aaptiv, to find time to exercise regularly. Or maybe set aside one afternoon a month to learn new skills, or to make up for any family game nights skipped because of school events or other conflicts.

Give yourself rewards when you succeed

Once you start implementing your solution, reinforce the behavior with rewards. Yes, we all know that exercise and healthy eating and more sleep and quality time with family are their own rewards, but you can also enjoy external rewards like buying a new workout top, splurging on that fancy cheese, or checking out a new board game from the library .

Walfish suggests rewarding yourself as quickly and as often as possible. “Give yourself daily or weekly small rewards versus waiting until the end of the month.” Even something as simple as tracking your progress in an app or putting a gold star on a calendar can motivate you to keep going.

Don’t punish yourself for slipping

Even with the best plans (and contingency plans) in place, there will still be days when we don’t live up to our resolutions. When that happens, Walfish advises us to avoid punishing ourselves. Instead, we should forgive ourselves, accept that we are human, and continue working toward whatever we set out to do.

“Know ahead of time how you’re going to handle falling off the wagon,” Walfish explains. “If you cheat on your diet plan, how do you get back on track as quickly as possible?” If it’s the right kind of solution, your life will be a little worse when you give it up—and that should be enough incentive to help you fit the behavior back into your daily routine.

Adjust your resolution if necessary

Pay attention to how your resolutions fit into your life as the year progresses. Do they make your life better, or do they feel less like something you want to do and more like something you thought you did shall do?

Maybe meditation isn’t your thing. Maybe everyone in your family has come to dread the weekly game night. If a goal doesn’t work for you, you know—and that’s okay.

Leigh and Walfish advise both decision makers to be honest with themselves and be ready to adapt and adjust their goals throughout the year. Maybe you’d rather sign up for a meal package subscription than, for example, cook a healthy dinner from scratch every night. Or maybe you discovered you hate cooking and instead would reconfigure your budget to put more money into healthy takeout options.

“It’s really more about the process of change than the change itself,” says Leigh. As long as you keep working toward your core values, it doesn’t matter how you get there. You can eat nutritious food even if you don’t cook, improve your physical condition even if you can’t make it to the gym, and spend quality time with your family even if neither of you likes board games.

You should also be aware of when you’ve made a resolution that doesn’t actually reflect your core values. “It doesn’t matter what you think you want,” explains Walfish. “The truth about your underlying wants and needs will always come through.” If you tell yourself you’ll read 52 books next year but you actually want to spend your free time looking at The officeyou might only read three or four books before you start making excuses to trade your reading habit for your streaming habit.

“Discover your own truth,” advises Walfish. “Cherish and respect it.”

And then resolve to affirm it, no matter what the new year brings.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency supported and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe that navigating life insurance decisions, your personal finances and overall well-being can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency supported and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe that navigating life insurance decisions, your personal finances and overall well-being can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less difficult if they fit your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to provide tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide and should not be used for tax, legal or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to obtain advice from their own tax or legal advisor.

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