How to make your New Year's resolution stick

As 2015 draws to a close and the hangover from Christmas Day subsides, you may already have a list of resolutions ready for January 1. But since 1 in 3 of us will ditch our resolutions by the end of January because we’re ‘too busy’ we’ve put together a list of tips to help you succeed in 2016.

Make just one New Year’s resolution. It’d be great to lose 5 pounds, drink less alcohol, eat more vegetables and save more money but anyone who tries to tackle all of these in just one year is guaranteed to fail. Why? Because of cognitive overload. Each time we try something new our brains work hard and get tired. Drain your willpower too often and it'll feel easier to just quit. Unless you’ve already managed more than one New Year’s resolution in 2015 it’s best to stick to one achievable New Year’s resolution in 2016.

Be specific. When it comes to money it should be easy to make your resolution specific. If you want to save more money, commit to an exact number. If you want to clear your debt, commit to an exact number. If you want to start investing, commit to an exact number.

Get someone you trust to hold you accountable. Ideally pick someone who has the same goal so that you can motivate each other. If you’re trying to save $3,000 by the end of 2016 find another friend who’s trying to save a similar amount. By enlisting your friend in your money goal it’ll be easier to discuss money in general (I’m a fan of gradually chipping away at this taboo) but it’ll also push each of you to find creative and cost-effective ways to spend time together like hosting dinner at home instead of eating out.

Break down your resolution into a process. Breaking down your resolution into weekly or daily steps will make the resolution feel less overwhelming. Habits and routine expert, James Clear argues that focusing on your system rather than a goal is more effective in the long-run. Consider what practices you could do daily to turn your resolution into a habit.

Try reducing a bad habit gradually instead of eliminating it. If you’re trying to stop your overspending you may find it’s more effective to gradually reduce how much you spend instead of imposing a cold-turkey budget. The easiest way to know if you’re overspending is to track what you spend. After you have the real data on how you spend, commit to the smallest and easiest amount to cut your spending back by. This could be as a little as $1 per day. By starting with a version of your spending that is incredibly easy to achieve you’ll find it harder to say no to doing it and it’ll feel so easy that it is not difficult at the beginning. Then every day you increase that amount by small increments. On day 1 you could commit to spending $1 less and on day 2 you could commit to spending $1.10 less. By making these incremental changes you will avoid early burnout.

Set a time-limit for test driving your resolution. Giving ourselves a 30-day trial period for a New Year’s resolution before committing to it for the rest of 2016 means we can be more flexible without giving up altogether. You’ll be pleased to know that it takes around 66 days to form a new habit so by the time your trial is up you’ll be just about halfway through developing a new habit.

Track your progress by recording each time you do something towards your resolution. In 2015 I kept a spreadsheet recording my running. Why? Because I wanted to run a marathon. Staying motivated was difficult though. I was fit but I hated running. Each time I recorded another entry in my running spreadsheet I felt good about it so I kept running.

Start today. Don’t wait for New Year’s day. You’ll feel like a champ if you’ve already made progress on January 1st whilst everyone else is struggling with day 1 of their resolutions. Commit to doing something now. Even if that means doing something small. The small steps add up.

Happy New Year.

Maureen and Chris from The Life-Life Balance

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