For years and years, I would make a series of New Year’s resolutions in the days leading up to January 1. These would be full of high-minded goals, such as “I’m going to save $1,000 this year” or “I’m going to lose thirty pounds this year.” January 1 would roll around and I’d start off with the best of intentions, but by February 1, nothing had changed and I was back to square one.
Last year, I set two resolutions, but I did it a bit differently this time around. Both resolutions were 100% successful (in fact, you’re reading the result of one resolution) and having accomplished both made me happier than I thought possible.
How did I do it? Here’s a guide to successful New Year’s resolutions, a plan for success that point by point takes on the failures of the usual routes to resolutions. This plan seems to work very well in particular for financial resolutions and other resolutions with very clear metrics.
Select at most three resolutions Don’t load yourself down with a huge number of resolutions. The more resolutions you have, the more likely you are to break one of them, and then break the rest of them by domino effect.
Define your resolutions carefully Make sure that you can actually meet these resolutions – also, make sure that these goals are quantifiable. Here are a few examples of how you can turn vague resolutions into clear ones:
I want to lose weight How much weight? 10 pounds? As much as you can? What you should do is weigh yourself, look at the scale, and ask yourself what would I like to weigh next year at this time?
I want to save money for a down payment How much of a down payment? How nice of a house? Work on statements like these until you have some real dollar amounts that are realistic. Turn this from I want to save money for a down payment into I want to save up $10,000 for a down payment.
Use the 60% rule Quite often, goals for New Year’s resolutions are unrealistically high, especially once they’re quantified. If you want to be successful, you need to set attainable goals. My advice is to use the 60% rule; multiply your target by 60% to see what your target should be, a realistic one that you might actually achieve.
I want to lose some weight by next Christmas Make the goal not that weight, but about 60% of the way to that weight. So, if you weigh 180 pounds and you want to weigh 140 pounds, you dream about losing 40 pounds, but your goal should be about 24 pounds. So, turn I want to lose weight into I want to lose 24 pounds by next Christmas.
I want to save up $10,000 for a down payment Transform the goal from something lofty into something more attainable, one that you can beat if you’re really committed, but something you can meet with a bit of hard work. Instead of saving to $10,000, make your goal I want to save up $6,000 for a down payment.
Set lots of “easy” milestones Sit down and calculate what you need to do each month or even each week to make this goal realistic. Divide your goal up into very small, easily digestible bits.
I want to lose 24 pounds by next Christmas. This equates into two pounds a month, so set your goal as I want to lose two pounds a month next year.
I want to save up $6,000 for a down payment This equates into $500 a month, or $125 a week. So, turn your goal into I want to save $125 a week for a down payment.
Set yourself up for success When your attitude is strong (the first month or two), work hard to get ahead of your pace so that when things are busy later on, you won’t have to feel like a failure if you didn’t meet your goal for a month.
If your goal is I want to lose two pounds a month next year and you lose seven pounds in January and two pounds each month after that, if you only lose one pound in July and actually gain that pound back in September, it’s okay because you’re still on your schedule for meeting your resolution.
If your goal is I want to save $125 a week for a down payment, try putting away $150 or $200 a month at the start, so if money gets tight later next year, you can cut back for a little while and still meet your goals.
If you design and follow a plan with clearly defined goals and milestones and approach it with methods that help your chances of success, you can define resolutions this year that will make you proud when you reflect on them, not leave you feeling ashamed.