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13 Tips for Sticking to Your New Year's Resolutions

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It's the start of the new year, and that means it's the season for resolutions. I've always been part of the some 44 percent of Americans who make (and also break) New Year's resolutions; I'm a big believer in the power of small changes to make us happier.

Along the way, and especially since I started my resolutions-based happiness project, I've hit on some strategies for helping myself stick to resolutions.

  • Be specific.
  • Don't resolve to "Make more friends" or "Strengthen friendships" -- that's too vague. To make more friends as part of my happiness project, I have several very concrete resolutions like: "Start a group," "Say hello," "Make plans," "Show up," and "No gossip."

  • Write it down.
  • Review your resolution constantly.
  • If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it's easier to stick to it. I review my Resolutions Chart every night.

  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart (my method) -- whatever works for you to make yourself feel accountable for success and failure. (If you want to see my Resolutions Chart, as inspired by Benjamin Franklin, e-mail me at grubin@gretchenrubin.com.)

  • Think big.
  • Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure -- a trip to a foreign place, a break-up, a move, a new job. Let yourself imagine anything, and plan from there.

  • Think small.
  • Don't fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference. Just keeping your fridge cleared out could give you a real boost. Look close to home for ways to improve and grow.

  • Ask for help.

Why is this so hard? Nevertheless, every time I ask for help, I'm amazed at how much easier my task becomes.

If you have an especially tough time keeping resolutions, or if you have a pattern of making and breaking them, try these strategies:

  • Consider making only pleasant resolutions.
  • We can make our lives happier in many ways. If you're struggling to keep your resolutions, try resolving to "Go to more movies," "Find more time to read," or whatever resolutions you'd find fun to keep. Often, having more fun in our lives makes it easier to do tough things. Seeing more movies might make it easier to keep going to the gym.

  • Consider giving up a resolution.
  • If you keep making and breaking a resolution, consider whether you should relinquish it entirely. Put your energy toward changes that are both realistic and helpful. Don't let an unfulfilled resolution to lose 20 pounds or to overhaul your overgrown yard block you from making other, smaller resolutions that might give you a big happiness boost.

  • Keep your resolution every day.
  • Weirdly, it's often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail, do laundry) than every few days.

  • Set a deadline.
  • Don't give up if something interferes with your deadline.
  • "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Thank you, Voltaire. Instead of starting your new exercise routine by training for the marathon, aim for a 20-minute walk each day. Instead of cleaning out the attic, tackle one bureau drawer. If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.

What else? What are some strategies you've discovered to help you stick to your New Year's resolutions?

***

If you're getting geared up to do some happiness resolutions next month, to make 2011 a happier year, join the 2011 Happiness Challenge! I'm still working on the sign-up page; stay tuned.

The bluebird is a symbol of happiness, so it's one of my auspicious symbols. A thoughtful reader sent me a link to this fabulous display of Tiffany & Co.'s holiday windows, with bluebird.

Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and each weekday morning, you'll get a happiness quotation in your e-mail inbox. Sign up here or e-mail me at grubin@gretchenrubin.com. I'm thrilled by the response to this -- I started it just a few weeks ago, and almost nine thousand people have signed up already.

Around the Web

The Happiness Project

Amazon.com: The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying ...

How to Achieve Your New Years Resolutions - Fun Facts and Figures

New Year's Resolutions Guide

Experts' Advice on Keeping New Year's Resolutions - TIME

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