The start of a new year often brings with it new goals and aspirations. How many times in the past have you set a New Year’s resolution to stop procrastinating, eat better, work out more, drink less, or read more? And how many times did you actually manage to achieve that goal? If you struggle to stick to your resolutions, you’re not alone: most people are in the same boat.
If you want to increase your chances of keeping the promises you make to yourself at the beginning of the new year, I have a proposition for you. Instead of choosing a huge goal that is broadly defined and can be affected by many factors, focus your energy on accomplishing a very specific task that you can control and hold yourself accountable for doing it every day for an entire year.
Instead of stepping on the scale on Friday to see if you lost two pounds that week, spend the entire year holding yourself accountable every day for not snacking after 6 p.m. and never grabbing seconds at the dinner table.
Instead of promising yourself to “save more money,” embrace strategies to cut your spending every day for an entire year. Forgo that afternoon coffee run to Starbucks, for example. Or skip lunchtime excursions to local restaurants and pack a lunch box to the office instead.
Instead of making a New Year’s resolution to “work out more” in some vague and undefined way, set your alarm clock one hour earlier than your usual time and use that time to do a minimum of 15 (or 30 or 45 or whatever target works for you) minutes of physical activity every day. The activity could be an aerobic workout in your basement, for example, or a spin class at the gym or a brisk walk in the neighborhood—what the activity is doesn't matter as long as you commit to holding yourself accountable to doing it.
Instead of declaring that 2019 will be the year in which you are in better contact with your far-away friends and family members, come up with a plan to set aside time every day to reach out to one of them (say, a phone call to Uncle Frank one day, a handwritten birthday card mailed to your cousin Gwen the next, or a quick “Hey, it’s been a while! How are things with you?” e-mail to a former roommate).
Instead of aspiring to read more books, set aside time every day (maybe half an hour between dinner and television watching, for example) to actually spend time with a book in your hands. Don’t worry about how many pages or how many books you need to get through in a certain amount of time. Just engage in a minimum amount of daily reading.
Instead of resolving to stop procrastinating in general, figure out daily strategies to stop the distractions that can get you off track. For many people, e-mail and social media are the biggest attention hogs (and time wasters). So limit how much time you spend on them every day (perhaps a fixed amount, such as half an hour after breakfast and half an hour after dinner, for example).
Whatever you’re interested in changing or improving about your life—your diet, your fitness, your hobbies, your connections—you can’t expect to succeed without a plan. When goals are too vague or too big, they’re much harder to achieve. So increase your odds of success by narrowing your focus to one specific task or activity that you can work on a little bit each day. Before you know it, an entire year will have passed, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised to have achieved something that, when viewed as a huge undertaking, had seemed impossible before.