Every year I make some lofty New Year’s resolutions, and each year I accomplish about zero.
Lose 30 lbs. Write a novel. Increase my income 2x. Convince my wife to get a third cat. All of these sound like good ideas at 11:55 PM on December 31, but then life happens, priorities change, and my resolutions fade into the background to watch football games on my couch and enjoy an occasional apple fritter .
But I’m not alone in breaking my New Year’s resolution.
According to a study by the University of Scranton, only 8% of Americans feel they have succeeded in fulfilling their New Year’s resolutions by the end of the year.
This is not because we are all lazy or procrastinators. Many of us are just too ambitious with our ambitions. Not only do we bite off more than we can chew, we choke on our hubris.
But author and opinion leader Amy Morin says there’s another way to approach New Year’s resolutions. Morin, psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Very well, is an expert in what mentally strong and disciplined people do. In fact, she wrote four of them bestselling books about the subject. Her Ted talk is one of the most viewed, with 22 million views on YouTube.
Morin says we often sabotage ourselves by setting vague or unrealistic goals. I spoke to her on the podcast Write about now.
Here are some smart strategies for making, not breaking, resolutions in 2023.
Related: Happy New Year’s Eve? Many entrepreneurs think it’s the worst night of the year. Here’s why – and what I told my clients to change their minds.
1. Write down your resolution
Instead of just starting everything on January 1, make a realistic plan first. Most people start New Year’s resolutions without a plan and then wonder why they failed.
“Write it down. There’s something about seeing it on paper that makes it more real to us,” says Morin.
She also advises saying your intention out loud to your friends and making sure you’re as specific as possible.
“There’s some evidence that if you say to people, ‘I’m going to get a beach body next year,’ it’s almost like your brain thinks you’ve already done it. So you don’t put as much effort into it,” says Morin. “But when you talk to people about what you’re going to do to achieve that goal, you say, ‘This is what I’m going to do.'”
2. Set 30-day challenges, not 365-day goals
Morin is a fan of giving yourself practical, achievable 30-day mini-challenges rather than giant year-long trials that take you longer to complete.
“One of the problems with big resolutions is we think I put that off until later, and before you know it the year is over,” says Morin.
It’s better to give yourself a month to change something, whether it’s getting firmer abs or reading more books. Thirty-day challenges are easier to start and complete because you know they won’t last forever. They are also easier to repeat.
3. Take two minutes a day to be more grateful
When I first heard this, I kind of rolled my eyes. Gratitude is one of those New Age buzzwords like “abundance” that leaves me a little dry. But Morin says gratitude is one of “the most underrated superpowers out there.” The simple act of acknowledging what you’re thankful for every day can make you happier, healthier, and even sleep better.
In a study at the University of California, participants were asked to write a few sentences each week. One group wrote about things they were thankful for, and another about things that bothered them. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about themselves. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor than those who focused on things that pissed them off.
4. Check in with a friend every day
“In today’s world, I think we don’t value the social connection with our friends enough,” says Morin.
She recommends checking in with a friend on a daily basis, even if it’s just to text a funny meme. Some friends may not answer, but most people will be happy to hear from you. “They’re looking for that in their lives,” says Morin, “and they’ll find that it makes them better.”
Connecting with friends also helps to recharge your battery. It’s far too easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day stress of work, but making time for a friend puts things into perspective and makes you realize who and what is important.
5. Set realistic timelines
If you’re pursuing something big, like writing a book or doing a Ted Talk, Morin recommends giving yourself a reasonable timeline.
For example, if you want to write a book in a year, think about how many days a week you would need to write and how many words you would need to write per day to make it happen. “And think about how you’re going to track this,” says Morin. It could be a paper calendar on your fridge or one of those desk calendars from the 90s. Something about having a physical thing where you chart your progress helps you stay on track and feel like you achieved something.
Whatever your resolution, Morin says don’t give up so easily.
“You can always change your resolution, come up with a slightly different plan, or figure out how to say motivated,” she says. “Don’t give up just because it doesn’t work out for the first few weeks or months.”