It may be hard to believe, but 2015 is nearly here. Which means that after all the busy-ness, fun and overindulgence of the end of the year, a lot of us will be atoning by setting New Year’s resolutions. Some 45% of Americans resolve to make a change in the new year, in fact. The top three resolutions, according to statistics from the University of Scranton: “Lose weight,” followed by “get organized” and “spend less and save more.”
If nearly half of us are optimistic enough to set a resolution, the sobering truth is that just 8% actually achieve it. A lot has to do with how you approach change. Here are five tips for improving your chances of success:
1. BE SPECIFIC.
When you’re very clear about exactly what you want to accomplish, you’re a lot more likely to reach your goal. Setting yourself a vague resolution, like “I will save more money,” is easier to ignore and harder to achieve than saying, “I will set aside $50 out of every paycheck starting on January 7.”
2. KEEP IT REALISTIC.
In many aspects of life, it pays to think big. But one of the most common reasons that resolutions fail is by setting a goal that’s too ambitious (so it eventually seems overwhelming and difficult to see progress along the way) and/or unrealistic for the way you live your life. If you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years and you’re not an early bird, it will be very tough to sustain the motivation to work out five times a week at 5:30 a.m. Maybe planning to go two or three times a week is a more manageable first step?
3. DO A LITTLE SELF-EXAMINATION.
When we feel ready to change, it’s tempting to just dive in—to sign up for a new gym membership or enroll in a demanding class. But taking some time to understand what’s really going on in your head can improve the chances you’ll succeed. The most important question (and one only you can answer) may be: Am I really ready for a change? For example, if you want to do a better job of keeping your temper in check, consider the factors that trigger anger and frustration as well as alternate ways of responding. If you’d like to get your home office organized, think not just about where you’ll put things away, but also about how you’ll avoid papers and clutter piling up again.
4. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH SUPPORT.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this aspect of resolution-setting. When you have family, friends, coworkers and neighbors on your side (perhaps you’re even helping each other reach a goal), the hard work of making a change gets a lot easier. It can even be that a furry friend is your “support,” getting you outside for daily walks even during chilly weather. Help may also come in the form of paid experts: A personal trainer can show you doable workouts to help you safely reach your fitness goals, and a financial planner is the ideal source for devising a realistic plan for getting out of debt.
5. RECOGNIZE THAT SETBACKS ARE NORMAL.
We all stumble from time to time on our way toward a goal. The challenge (and it can be a big one!) is learning how to accept this and get back on track as soon as possible. If you’ve resolved, say, to take off 20 pounds and you’ve gained back a few after a tough stretch at work, it may be necessary to take a deep breath, recommit to your original resolution and start again. After all, there’s nothing magical about January when it comes to setting a goal. Making a change that brings you closer to a healthier, happier life can start anytime.