THE BLOG
12/16/2013 08:18 am ET Updated Jan 11, 2016

New Year's Resolutions Are Broken: Try Creating Life Goals

So what will it be... your first marathon? Taking the leap into entrepreneurship? Kicking a habit that's getting in the way of you being your best self?

One thing is for sure: If you want to upgrade, you're gonna need to compete within yourself to make the change last.

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but I'm always a fan of taking the opportunity to set your mind on ways to live a full life. The tricky part about New Year's resolutions is that they are often based on improving personal faults, based on "not" doing something. By design, they are the result of contemplating our own weaknesses. It is no wonder why nine out of 10 people fail at keeping their resolutions.

Here are some tips on how to develop challenging, lasting and meaningful goals for 2014. Spoiler alert: The resolution does not begin when the ball drops... it starts today.

Well-accepted principles of psychology suggest that when we behave in ways that support or reflect our personal values and beliefs, we are much more likely to commit to that behavior over time (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Balleine, Daw, & O'Doherty, 2008). If you value hard work, then chances are you would be great at seeking challenging tasks that require long-term commitment.

Start by asking yourself three questions:

1. What characteristics of myself do I value most?
2. What are my signature strengths?
3. What would make me stronger?

Answering these questions will help you be really clear of the strengths that will help you shift a habit. By focusing on your strengths through challenge, you will naturally imagine yourself seeking the things that matter to you, like running that first marathon, rather than grudgingly trying to improve fault such as shedding those pesky five pounds you've gained since Thanksgiving.

Making a long-term commitment, regardless of what it is, starts with a single step forward. Are you thinking of leaving that corporate job to hang your own shingle? Start preparing now by involving others in the plan. Make the call to your accountant, ask trusted friends of their opinions, and ask family members about their ideas of how to execute your business plan. Making a commitment to ourselves is strengthened when we include other people in the process.

Thank goodness that execution of any task is a trainable skill. Otherwise, we would all be "set in our ways" for life. Luckily, the human brain is very sensitive to coaching (both positive and not so positive), from others and also ourselves. When it comes to changing a habit, surrounding yourself with people who already have a sense of competency in the desired trait (or skill) can be extremely beneficial. Learning how to adopt new ways of thinking is at the center of all behavioral change. The first step is to become aware of the thoughts that are working against the habit changing, as well as the thoughts that support the new habit.

For example: "Being physically fit is for people who are overly vain and have too much time on their hands" becomes "Being healthy matters to me. All I need to do is be consistent with moving with intensity every day (call it 20 minutes) and I'll reach my goal."

Staying true to your resolution (we tend to use the word "commitment") over time, regardless of what it is, requires a positive, focused and disciplined mind. While many people may have the ability to say positive things to themselves, the real challenge is to develop the ability to bounce back after a "lost day" or a setback in plans. It is equally important to develop challenging goals that are 100% under your control as it is to be kind with yourself when you get off track.

Oftentimes, what happens when we reach a setback or obstacle is that we quietly begin to feed doubt in our ability to reach the goal - or - we become overly critical. Both make the new habit extremely difficult to achieve. Here's a strategy that we've found to be very powerful when you become aware of negative / critical / doubt-filled thinking:

Celebrate (yeah, kinda quirky, I know) that you've become aware of the negative dialogue in your head. Grin. Take a deep breath, exhale, and let it go. Choose a new thought that you're certain will get you closer to believing that you're staying on track, and that your goal is still within reach.

While your friends may be holding off until 12:01 on January 1st to officially put their resolutions in gear, get a head start today by focusing on your strengths, develop specific goals that are both attainable and challenging, and use positive visualization, self-coaching and meditation to achieve a healthy habit-forming mindset. In the same way athletes train for months before the season opener, you can generate incredible momentum heading into the New Year.