By Jesse Carey
December 31, 2015
Jesse Carey is an editor at RELEVANT and a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.
How to Make a New Year's Resolution That Actually Sticks
New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap.
Sure, they’re a little cliché. They don’t carry any real consequences. And they often either involve giving up something you enjoy or starting something you don’t.
Your previous attempts at becoming a multilingual, clean-eating, daily Bible-reading, Crossfit pro who watches less TV may have sputtered out after a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make changes in the New Year that stick.
Here’s a our guide to making resolutions you’ll actually want—and be able—to keep.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to launch a successful tech startup, write a best-selling novel or complete an Ironman Triathlon. But it’s easy to forget that most successful people dedicate their entire lives to accomplishing their goals. Ambition is a good thing, but if you set the goal so high that it’s nearly impossible to reach, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Instead of trying to cram a decade’s worth of accomplishments into a single year, start by setting achievable milestones. You may not be qualifying for the Olympics in distance running by December, but you might be able to run that first marathon.
Skip The Gimmicks
If the ticket to washboard abs seems just a little too low-committal, the method to wipe out tens of thousands of dollars of student loans seems a little too simple or the ability to speak fluent Swahili seems curiously easy, then, unfortunately, it probably is.
Focus On Things You Actually Like Doing
No one likes giving up chocolate, watching less Netflix or going to bed earlier every night. Unless you’re some kind of monk who enjoys acts of extreme self-discipline—like limiting yourself to just two episodes of House of Cards at a time—then a better strategy may be to focus on doing things you enjoy instead of just on depriving yourself.
Resolve to read more books you like, spend more time in face-to-face conversation, get outdoors more, meet your neighbors, and so on. Resolutions don’t have to feel like some sort of sadistic David Blaine feat of endurance (an entire year without soda!).
Remember That Resolutions Are Not Legally Binding Contracts
We’ve got good news: Despite misconceptions, there are not actually any legal ramifications for consuming a donut or missing an evening devotional reading, despite having verbally resolved to do otherwise. In most scenarios, law enforcement will likely not be contacted if you decide not to wake up extra early to run three miles.
Don’t Treat A Resolution Like A Reality TV Competition
Thankfully, most New Year’s resolutions don’t require you to publicly stand on a giant scale in spandex while your week’s weight loss results are broadcast to America. So there’s no reason to treat personal fitness goals like a competition.
Sure, during those first few weeks in January, you may be motivated to spend irrational amounts of time on the treadmill or do those weird rope-pulling exercises like $1 million is on the line. But by the time March rolls around, you’ll be so burned out that your weight bench will end up becoming a very expensive clothing rack.
The only thing worse than feeling like a New Year’s resolution failure is feeling like a New Year’s resolution failure who also injured their lower back while attempting to flip a comically large tire up a hill.
A key to keeping your resolution might be in your pocket. Want to read the Bible in a year? Download the YouVersion app on your phone and get a reading emailed to you every day. Want to stay on budget? Check out a personal finance site like Mint.com. Trying to lose weight? Put a few calorie counting apps on your iPad. Most of the resources you need to keep your resolutions are free and can be taken with you wherever you go. All you have to do is use them.
Be Accountable, Not Obligated
Boldly posting a detailed list of all of your ambitious resolutions for each of your Facebook friends to see may seem like a good idea on December 30. But when it turns out that you underestimated the time commitment required to live-tweet your reading of the entire Bible in both Greek and Hebrew, you might feel a little embarrassed when your project starts to taper off in February.
Staying accountable to a friend can be a positive way stay on track, sure, but be careful about being so jazzed about your life-changing resolutions that you make public promises you can’t keep.
Resolve To Do Things That Improve Other People’s Lives, Not Just Your Own
Try committing to more charity work. Talk to someone in your church about leading a Bible study. Be a mentor to someone younger than you. Not only will you be doing something positive in the life of a person in need, you’ll also be more motivated to keep your resolution, knowing that someone else is counting on you.
Make More Margin In Your Life
When it comes to making resolutions, sometimes less is more. Instead of trying to cram more commitments into your schedule, resolve to cut some out. Open up margin to pray, to rest, to be spontaneous. There’s a reason even God took a day to do nothing.