One of my favorite books is SWITCH, by Chip and Dan Heath. I’m subscribed to their resources, and recently they sent me an email I thought I’d repost for you here:
Read on for tips on making your New Year’s resolution work. Really. This is the year you’re going to stick to it.
FIVE TIPS FOR (FINALLY) GETTING YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION RIGHT
1. Don’t be ambitious. When change is hard, aim low. A friend of ours, the editor of a wellness magazine, has a “1-Song Workout” that she does on days when she doesn’t feel like working out. She tells herself, “All I have to do is work out for one song,” but of course she often gets in a groove and finishes a full workout. So don’t set an ambitious New Year’s resolution like “I’ll work out four times a week.” Instead, plan to do “1-Song Workouts” on Monday and Thursday. Leave yourself room to overachieve — that feeling of “nailing it” is what will keep you hooked.
2. Watch for bright spots. If you’re trying to eat healthier, for instance, don’t obsess about all the times that you slip and eat an Oreo. Instead, keep a constant watch on what does work. If you ate healthy food all day yesterday, how did you get away with it? Was it because you had healthy “heat & eat” food that was easy to fix? Was it because you never let yourself get so hungry that you’d crave fatty foods? Did you avoid the office lunch at the Mexican place? If you can understand what allowed you to succeed, you can do more of it. That’s bright-spots thinking. (Need a refresher on “bright spots”?)
3. Make simple tweaks in your environment. If you’re trying to increase your savings, pay with cash and leave your cards at home. If you’re trying to diet, carry around a Ziploc of apple slices. If you’re trying to jog, lay out your clothes the night before. If you’re trying to stop oversleeping, set up a double (or triple?) alarm system. (Or buy a Clocky with your Xmas gift cards!) This stuff sounds insignificant, but it will make a big difference.
4. Rely on planning, not willpower. Your Resolution calls for a new way of behaving. And that’s a challenge because you’ve been practicing the old way of behaving for a long time. The old way is well-paved and familiar and comfortable. So you can’t just bet on willpower or good intentions to ensure your success. Use your planning skills. Get yourself on the hook for something! Don’t plan to “learn Spanish.” Register for a Spanish course at your local community college. Do it right now — you’re already online. Or don’t “try hard” to go to the gym in the morning. Email your friend, right now, and tell ’em to come get you at 7am on January 3.
5. Publicize your resolution. We all know peer pressure works. So use it on yourself. Tell everybody you know what your resolution is. They’ll bug you about it, and you won’t want to disappoint them. Just knowing that they know will make you more likely to succeed.
Contrast this material with the Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions of 2011:
1. Lose weight (1,057 votes)
2. Be happy (684 votes)
3. Save money (636 votes)
4. Fall in love (554 votes)
5. Get a job (515 votes)
6. Read more (433 votes)
7. Eat, drink, try or learn something new (378 votes)
8. Quit Smoking (345 votes)
9. Take a photo every day for a year (266 votes)
10. Run a marathon (255 votes)
Notice something strange here? Virtually none of these include a specific behavior to begin. But if there’s no specific step forward, the goal becomes impossible. Lord Jesus, help us make decisions and commitments that matter so you can make changes that stick.