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11/03/2015 11:07 am ET | Updated Nov 03, 2016

How to Make Resolutions That Stick

How to Make Resolutions that Stick

Let's face it, making resolutions stick is hard. And no matter what time of the year we make those resolutions -- whether it's on New Year's Eve or any other day -- the difficulty always resides in making them stick. While we might set lofty goals for ourselves, we don't always follow through with turning them into a reality. Usually, we give up, throwing our hands in the air, succumbing to silent resignation.

Some of the time, we just get fed up -- sick and tired of pursuing something that we ultimately could never reach in the first place. At least, that's one of the lines we feed ourselves. When the going gets tough, we don't always get going; we aren't as tough on the inside as we might think we are. And when the time comes to keep fighting that good fight, we revert back to our old ways.

When we reach the end of our ropes, so to speak, we can hardly remember why we wanted what we wanted in the first place. We make excuses and reason our way out of the goal. So, what gives? How can we actually make resolutions that stick rather than saying we want something and not following through with it time and again?

While achieving any goal is hard, accomplishing a monumental goal -- the kind we tend to set once a year on New Year's -- is even harder. In fact, it's so hard that statistically speaking, only 8 percent of people who make resolutions are able to follow through and achieve them.

Usually, there are several factors working against us when we're trying to make a resolution stick. But the biggest factor that seems to do us in has nothing to do with external forces, but rather comes from our own minds. When fear, anxiety, and stress set in, we lose sight of our progress and simply give up, reverting back to our old routines.

Yet, there are ways to overcome some of our natural tendencies to give up when the going gets tough. If you can adhere to these five simple principles, you'll find that making resolutions stick becomes far easier.

Principle #1 -- Set Goals with Deep-Enough Reasons

Considering that only 8 percent of people can make their resolutions stick, one comes to wonder how they can follow through. How is it that they buck the trend, overcome temptations, and ultimately see things through to the end? While it might seem perplexing to most, one of the biggest principles behind making resolutions stick is ensuring that you have deep-enough reasons for achieving them.

Any goal, no matter what time of year it's set, can be achieved when our reasons outweigh our excuses. When there's something so profound and deep fueling our quest, little can get in the way. Think about it yourself for a moment -- In the past, when something meant enough to you, didn't you do whatever it took to achieve it? Little can stand in the way of the highly-determined person.

As long as we can develop a deep-enough reason, we can achieve any goal. The problem really arise when our goals don't mean that much to us. When goals lack that deep meaning required to achieve them, it's easy to reason our ways our of it; it's easy to throw our hands up in silent resignation when the going get's tough.

Come up with a deep-enough reason for your goals if you want to make resolutions that stick. Spend the time actually writing out that reason and why it's so important to you. Remember, if it's just superficial, you'll be less likely to see things through.

Principle #2 -- Handle Your Bad Habits Before They Handle You

One big thing that holds us back are our habits -- namely, the bad ones. Oftentimes, it doesn't take long for us to revert back to our old ways. While we might say we want something, we often fail to follow through due to the simple fact that habits are all-powerful. In fact, our habits control much of what we think, say, and do.

In a study conducted by Duke University's David T. Neal, Wendy Wood, and Jeffrey M. Quinn, it was determined that "approximately 45 percent of everyday behaviors tended to be repeated in the same location almost every day." That's nearly half of everything we do.

The worst part about our bad habits is that we're at the mercy of our minds. Most of the internal conversations in our mind that reside at the root of our habits happen at the subconscious level. Neural pathways that have been etched over years, possibly decades, of repetitive behavior control what we do on a daily basis.

So, if you can't handle your bad habits, then they will most certainly handle you. If you're trying to make any resolution that brings about a major change in lifestyle, it won't occur unless you handle your behavior at the root level -- your habits. If you can create a plan to fix your bad habits in the area you're set on improving in your life, then remarkable changes can happen.

To handle your bad habits, the best method is to focus on keystone habits. Keystone habits are the gateway to good habit development, and also the best method for eliminating many pesky bad habits from our lives. Focus on keystone habits, and watch as your life transforms before your very eyes, and you become more determined and capable of achieving your resolutions.

Principle #3 -- Sweat the Small Stuff

One of the other major hurdles that we tend to face when pursuing a major goal or resolution is that we fail to sweat the small stuff. When we ignore the little things that we need to do on a daily basis, brushing them off to the wayside, it's easier to get sidetracked. But, when we do sweat the small stuff, achieving a major goal is easier.

Whatever your resolution is, create a system for tracking your behavior on a daily basis. Get extremely detailed and meticulous about tracking what you do in relation to a particular goal. For example, if you have a weight-loss goal, write down every single thing that you put into your mouth -- food or drink.

How many calories are you eating each day? How much sugar or fat is going into your system? How many steps are you taking or minutes are you exercising? At the end of the day, how did you feel about your progress? When we take an approach of meticulously tracking our behavior and charting our progress, it's easier to see how far we've come, where we are, and what's left to go.

When we ignore the small stuff, and stop sweating the details, we lose sight of the bigger picture. If you have a money goal, for example, you should track every single penny you spend every single day, no matter how small. This way, you can see where your money is really going. Again, it's easy to lose sight of things when we don't sweat the small stuff.

Head to the nearest store and purchase a small notepad and sweat the small stuff. Track your results on a daily basis. What's better? Use spreadsheet software to chart those results at the end of the day and watch your progress.

Principle #4 -- Don't Beat Yourself Up for Having a Weak Moment

Often, when we're pursuing a major goal, we can hit a brick wall. We have weak moments where we cave in and temptation takes over, all but destroying our momentum. This is painfully difficult to recover from for some people. But, we mustn't beat ourselves up over a weak moment. As long as we stay committed to the overall goal and we don't give up, we won't fail.

Realize that we will make mistakes and we will fail. But we can't let temporary setbacks completely ruin our progress. Even if you have a minor setback, don't allow it to dissuade you from progressing forward. Get back up and keep moving forward. This is also why it's very important to have strong-enough reasons why we must achieve things.

Many of the most famous and successful people in the world have failed many times over. The biggest problem is that we tend to take those minor setbacks as major defeats. But they're not. As long as you focus on the positive rather than the negative, and ensure that you pick yourself back up again, you will get there over time. It just won't happen overnight.

If you have to, seek inspiration in others. Do the research and you'll find inspiring stories that will help you to overcome the obstacles that you might face. Hang a cork board in your house, print and pin up examples and even quotes to help you take things one day at a time.

Principle #5 -- Set Yourself Up to Win with the Micro-Habit Approach

Sometimes, we just need to start small and build. When we try to take on too much too fast, it's easier to get discouraged when we hit some stumbling blocks. When that happens, we revert back to those old pesky patterns and bad habits. To really make your resolutions stick, set yourself up for small wins by taking the micro-habit approach.

The truth is that habits take a long time to build up; it doesn't happen in one night, one week, or even one month. It takes constant application over time -- that's how habits are built up. And, since habits are at the source of all that we do, we must improve our habits if we want to achieve our goals.

For example, we'll have a harder time saving and investing to achieve a money goal when we have the bad habit of over-spending on certain things or not keeping track of our expenses. The same thing applies to any other area of our lives. How can we achieve weight-loss goals when we default to bad health habits?

The micro-habit approach is great because you can use it to achieve just about any goal slowly over time. For example, if you want to work out for an hour every day to lose weight, trying to get out there and run for one hour from the start might work for a few days until you get frustrated or find yourself too sore or even bruised to continue, losing track of your progress.

However, if you start out by just walking five minutes every morning, and you do that for the first week, then move up to 10 minutes of walking the next week, then 15 minutes the week after that, and so on, you'll slowly build up the habit over time. Keep in mind that habits take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit, with an average of 66 days for behavior to set in. Simply put, trying to make major changes in a very short period won't work.

If you've been frustrated with achieving your goals in the past and you've found bad habits getting in the way, try the micro-habit approach. Start small and build good habits over time, and watch as your momentum takes off.

R.L. Adams is a writer, blogger, and entrepreneur. He runs a popular blog called Wanderlust Worker where he sheds light on topics such as good habit development and goal setting.

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