How to make New Year resolutions that stick
(This is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the December 2018 edition of Go-getter, the in-flight magazine you get when you fly GoAir.)
It’s that time of the year when people all around you are making New Year resolutions. Some want to set up a workout routine, others are planning to quit smoking. Some want to read at least one book every month, and others are committing to learning a new language. Most resolutions don’t stick because there is no plan, and the initial energy fizzles out. A resolution is a promise you make to yourself, and promises are worth keeping. We show you how to do it.
Doing the groundwork: Begin by making a list of ten things that you want to change in your life. Please do not censor yourself at this stage. You are allowed to write down anything that feels important or urgent to you. This could be a behaviour that you want to modify, a practice that you want to adopt, an emotional pattern that you want to let go of, or a big purchase that you want to save up towards. Do not worry about whether a particular item on the list seems too silly or too ambitious. Put it down on paper. This list is only for you to look at, so you get to take complete control of what is on it. Ask the skeptic in your head to calm down.
Deciding on a resolution: Put this list aside for a day or two. Distance can help you see things from a fresh perspective. When you look at your list again, bring down the number of items on it from ten to five. You will intutively know what needs to be there, and what does not merit a place. Your core values and your current priorities will help you decide what to keep. Reframe these five into specific goals you want to achieve or habits that you want to cultivate. Now pick just one of these, and make that your resolution. The filtering process will ensure that you decide on a New Year resolution that is meaningful to you, and is not determined by what others want you to do with your life. We are often unable to follow our heart’s desire because we are burdened by other people’s expectations from us.
Evaluating your progress: Spend some time reflecting on what success would look and feel like to you as far as your New Year resolution is concerned. This will enable you to keep track of your progress. Your self-evaluation can happen on a daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or half-yearly basis. This is totally up to you. It will ensure higher chances of success than if you waited till the end of the year to evaluate. Decide on an evaluation method that would be helpful but not overwhelming. This evaluation can be simply about whether you were able to do something or not, or it can be framed in terms of how you did something you committed to. People who enjoy writing often use a diary or journal to note down their feelings through the process of working on their resolution.
Building a support system: New Year resolutions can be fun and challenging. To make sure that they stick, you might need a regular supply of encouragement from people other than yourself. Please be picky about who you bring on board, whether this is a friend, partner, sibling, mentor, colleague, parent or anyone else. Someone who not only cares about you but also believes in you is what you need. Stay away from those who are likely to nag you or make you feel guilty. They might cause frustration to the point of making you abandon your resolution. If you have a high degree of motivation and inner discipline, you might prefer to not have someone else check in on you. That is fine. Others might prefer having not one but three people check in on them. Some might like to find a buddy who has made a similar resolution so that they can support each other. Some might find smart phone apps more useful than a human support system. Find out what works best for you.
Making time for self-care: Keep reminding yourself of the intention behind your New Year resolution so that you stay focused on what is nurturing for you. If the intention has changed, acknowledge that and move forward. The New Year resolution is not meant to be a punishment or a mechanical task assigned to you. It is a choice you are making because you want to make a small but substantial life change that is positive. Reward yourself at regular intervals so that you feel a sense of accomplishment. It takes courage and effort to give up toxic habits, and to embrace a new way of living. You deserve a celebration.