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12/31/2015 09:10 am ET

5 Hacks For Making Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

This is your year.

The humble New Year's resolution, so easy to make, so difficult to keep. First a basic tip for making resolutions: You're more likely to keep a commitment if it's simple and actionable than vague and unrealistic.

Once you have your resolution set, put a plan in place for making it happen. Here are a few tricks for common resolutions and the best lifestyle hacks for making them a reality this year. Very little willpower required. 

1. The resolution: Stop going back for seconds (or thirds) at dinner.

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The hack: One of the easiest ways to reduce portion size is a simple swap that involves no willpower whatsoever. Simply switch your oversized dinner plates for smaller ones. According to a paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2012, people tend to serve themselves larger portions when provided with larger plates and bowls. It's also worth adapting your plate selection based on the food you're serving.  

“My main recommendation is to have two sizes of plates," study author Koert van Ittersum told Forbes in 2012. "If you’re eating very healthy food opt for the bigger plate, if it’s a less healthy meal, use the smaller plate." And, of course, everything in moderation. "I don’t suggest you eat your dinner from a coffee cup saucer,” Van Ittersum said. 

The benefits: Excess weight negatively impacts almost every metric of health, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. While ideally, we'd all prefer to maintain a healthy weight, for the more than 30 percent of Americans who are obese, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of body weight offers huge health gains. 

 

2. The resolution: Exercise in the morning before work.  

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The hack: Getting up early is hard, so set yourself up for success. Step one: go to bed early! Set yourself a bedtime alarm if you have to. Step two: remove excuses. Pack your bag the night before. Some early birds even swear by sleeping in their workout clothes, so they just can roll out of bed and go.

The benefits: You're less likely to skip your workout when tempting plans -- hello, happy hour -- pop up. Plus, you're setting yourself up to be in a great mood for the rest of the day. "Morning workouts result in better energy levels throughout the day and give you more mental alertness and sharpness," Dr. Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer of the American Council of Exercise told The Huffington Post in November.

Still, it's important to keep things in perspective. The most important thing isn't when you exercise -- it's that you're exercising in the first place.  


3. The resolution: Practice gratitude, every single day.

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The hack: It's all about accountability. Find yourself a gratitude buddy and make a pact to text each other three things you're grateful for each day. Bonus points for this one, because you'll strengthening your relationship with your gratitude buddy in the process.

The benefits: Gratitude has huge mental and physical perks, including improved well-being, reduced anxiety and depression and even better sleep. "Grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence," Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis told Live Science in 2014. "Gratitude is good medicine."

4. The resolution: Stop texting during family dinners.

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The hack: Instead of picking on one another for this nearly universal bad habit, we're in favor of turning this family resolution into a game. Start by putting all of your phones in a basket for the duration of the meal. The first to reach for his or her phone does the dishes.

The benefits: When you put away your phone while interacting with another person, you're sending them an important non-verbal message: my time with you is important to me.

The research confirms it. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that the presence of mobile phones negatively impacts closeness, connection and conversation quality, especially when individuals are discussing topics that matter to them. 


5. The resolution:
 Pare down your closet to the essentials -- and keep it that way.

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The hack: Practice the "one-in-one-out" method. Every time you buy an item of clothing you have to donate or ditch something from your closet. While it might seem like a strict rule, it's a good way to evaluate how much you value potential purchases and cut down on impulse buys.

The benefits: Too much clutter can be a direct pathway to stress and a distraction from productivity, but cleaning out an entire house or apartment is a daunting task. Instead, tackling one task at a time helps you see results. Even better, achieving small goals, such as organizing your closet, can prime you for bigger projects in the future. 

"We know from research that little acts of neatness cascade into larger acts of organization," Christine Carter, a sociologist at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center told Health.com in 2013.

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