How to be resolute about resolutions

New year, new semester and new you, right? It’s no wonder people like the idea of a new start and would like to honor it with resolutions. After all, self-improvement is almost always a good thing. But in order to actually improve, you have to stick to your resolution.

According to the article “Wired for Success: Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail,” approximately 50 percent of the population makes resolutions each New Year. More often than not, people don’t stick to these resolutions, or, if they do, don’t feel as satisfied and accomplished as they had anticipated. Part of the reason for this is the goals people have are unrealistic and immeasurable, or the person attempts to maintain too many resolutions.

The first step is to make sure your resolution is something you actually want to change. It’s much harder to change an aspect of your life if you’re satisfied with it the way it is. If you already eat healthy and work out, you may not want to promise yourself to go to the gym more often. Instead, consider making a reading list or setting up a weekly coffee date with your mom. Your resolutions don’t have to be earth-shaking—they can just be fun.

Regardless of the goal, you have to avoid being vague. Rather than telling yourself in 2013 you’re going to quit smoking, lose weight and not spend too much money, try focusing on one goal and make it specific. If you choose to lose weight, figure out how much weight you’d like to lose and by what date.

While you shouldn’t be afraid to dream big, you have to keep in mind your limitations. You are human—no one expects you to be able to quit smoking cold turkey within a day. Keep your goals reasonable and within a reasonable amount time. No one said your 2013 resolutions are limited to being fulfilled this year.

Once you have an actual goal determined, you have to figure out how you’re going to do it. Research how exactly you’re going to be able to achieve your goal. Telling yourself you’re going to study more in order to get a 4.0 GPA this semester is great, but where are you going to study? How will your study habits improve? Ask people who have been successful in your goal area to help you. If you have friends who go to the gym often, ask them how they achieve their healthy weight at the gym.

So you’ve figured out what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and when you’re going to do it. Now comes the hard part: fulfilling your goal. The first step is making time for your goal. Go buy a 2013 planner, open up your email calendar or create reminders on your phone.

As you set up your calendar, know that until you create a habit out of your goal, you will need to be your own mother. According to the article “World of Psychology: Need to Form a New Habit? 66 Days,” it really does take about two months to form a habit. That means until March you will have to actively make time and work on your resolution by nagging yourself.

While you’re keeping your goal on the forefront of your mind, remember behavior that is rewarded is repeated. At the end of the year, it’s important to have a way to reward yourself for having accomplished your goal. If you wanted to lose weight, buy yourself a new outfit at the end of the year. Having something to look forward to will help you be successful.

However, one final prize isn’t enough sometimes, and you may find it’s necessary to have little rewards as you accomplish each step in your goal. This can be as simple as having little congratulatory notes written on your calendar or giving yourself a mini prize for each accomplishment. As long as the prizes don’t counteract the goal (such as giving yourself a cigarette for every week you go without smoking), these rewards will train your mind to a more optimistic perspective concerning your goal.

There are a thousand more tips and tricks to keeping and achieving goals, as well as self-help books, psychology websites and advice from friends and family on how to make yourself better. What’s important is learning how you best improve yourself and not being too harsh if you mess up. Just because the change of the year is significant doesn’t mean that the change of each day or hour isn’t a chance for a fresh start.

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