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Get Resolution Success With A 3-Step Approach

Resolutions are a yearly tradition. Unfortunately, so is failing to keep them. In fact, 81 per cent of resolutions fail within two years. In this post, we’re going to walk through the basics of how to make a resolution that sticks, then apply those ideas to five of the most common types of resolutions.The top new year’s resolutions rarely change year to year. The most popular typically revolve around losing weight, managing stress, getting out of debt, quitting smoking and learning a new skill. We’ll tackle each of those individually, but before we start, let’s take a look at the basic you can use to form, schedule and track your personal resolution.

Image remixed from original by abdulsatarid/Shutterstock.

Part 1: Focus, Plan And Track Your Resolution To Make it Stick

Three main factors stop you from keeping your resolution: unclear goals, poor self-control and failure to gauge your progress. Each of these can be managed independently by following a three-step process.

Step 1: Form Your Resolution in a Way You Can Keep It
Focus is important no matter what type of resolution you have in mind. Make your resolution as specific as you can. For instance, “getting healthy” is a great idea, but it also means a lot of different things. Instead, figure out what you need to do to get healthy. This might mean losing weight, working out or changing your diet. If you’re struggling to focus your resolution, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why do I want to do this?
  • What do I do everyday that needs to be altered?
  • Will this make me happier?
  • Can I start small?
  • What steps can I take to build this resolution throughout the year?

The goal is to come up with a concrete idea in one or two sentences. For health, look at what you can change. If taking a 30-minute walk three times a week will suffice, make your resolution “Take a 30-minute walk around the neighbourhood ever Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

Step 2: Schedule Your Goals and Plan for the Year
Once you have a concrete resolution, you can plan the ways you’re going to achieve it. For the aforementioned walking example, it’s as simple as picking the three days and times you’re going to walk and entering those in a calendar.

The idea is that you integrate this schedule in with your regular calendar so you can make sure you have time to work on your resolution. You want your resolution to challenge you, but not be too time-consuming to accomplish. Creating a schedule helps you zero in on whether or not your resolution is feasible. You should consider this a self-imposed inflexible time and you have to stick with it no matter what. Consider your resolution’s schedule the same as your work schedule and integrate the two into one calendar.

If you’re wary about making your goals, schedule in a half-year assessment so you can review and retool the idea if needed.

Step 3: Track Your Accomplishments and Failures Throughout the Year
A lack of self-control is one of the major causes for failing to keep your resolution, but self-tracking is a great tool for keeping them. When you’re tracking your resolution, you can also keep an eye on your failures, so even if you end up bailing out of your resolution, you will still have the data to point you in the right direction. It’s also a great means to judge your progress. According to Psychology Today you should reward yourself for doing well with short-term reinforcement. For instance, if you met your weight goal for the month, treat yourself to a nice dinner.

Thanks to technology, tracking everything you do with nearly any type of resolution is easy. You can use the calendar and schedule you already created to track your goals, or you can seek out specialised apps and web apps to help you along the way. You can track nearly any type of data with webapps like Daytum or Quantter for general goals, or you can also seek out more specialised tracking tools for your specific resolution.

By the end of this process, you should have a fully fledged resolution and plan you can convey to anyone. For example:

My goal is to learn programming by reading and doing the examples in one chapter a week of The Best Programming Guide Ever and I’m tracking my progress on my calendar. By the end, I hope to release a game made in HTML5 on my website.

Part 2: Apply Successful Resolution Strategies to the Big Five

General advice is one thing, but how does it actually apply to your specific resolution? Below, I’ve applied these ideas to the five most common types of resolutions — diet and exercise, stress management, personal finance, quitting smoking and education — to illustrate how to make your all-too-common resolution stick.

Eat Healthy, Get Fit and Lose Weight

Over 21 per cent of Australians are obese, and another 60 per cent are overweight. With statistics like that, it’s not too surprising the most popular resolutions revolve around losing weight and eating healthy.

Step 1 – Form your resolution: Decide what you can and need to do in order to meet your goal, and boil it down from there. A few good, concrete examples would include:

  • Work vegetables into my diet four times a week.
  • Go on a 2km jog every Wednesday and Sunday.
  • Lose 10kg by December 1 by cutting trans fats and walking a half hour a day.

Step 2 – Schedule: A good place to start scheduling a diet is the USDA’s SuperTracker site where you can input your diet and get an idea where you’re going wrong. Now that you know what you need, it’s time to plan. You probably don’t want to make a grocery list for an entire year, so start with one for the month. Instead of filling in foods you want to eat, start with the foods that can help you meet your resolution. If it’s vegetables, write down some vegetables on each day of your calendar, and then structure the meals around the vegetables.

As for getting yourself in shape, you can be overweight or thin as a flagpole and make this resolution, so scheduling yourself out is going to depend on what your goals for it are. Regardless of your current circumference, a good place to start is by taking a look at our Lifehacker Workout to get an idea of what you can do for a simple, well-rounded workout. We also provide a schedule for your workout to make things easier and you can tweak that as you see fit as the year progresses. If our workout schedule isn’t your thing. If you’d prefer to make your own plan, our gymless workout will get you fit without spending a cent.

Losing weight may very well be one of the most difficult resolutions on the list and scheduling plays an important role in your success. First, you need to set a realistic weight loss goal. A realistic goal should be as little as losing half a kilo a week. Medically speaking, it’s best to seek to lose 5 to 10 per cent of your starting weight on your first attempt. To calculate that, multiply your current weight by 0.1 or 0.05. This will give you the weight you can realistically lose. Next, head over to a weight loss calculator and enter in your information. You can chose a target date for the weight loss as well as enter you current activities and you’ll get a number of different options for a date to reach your goal by. You’ll also get a target calorie count, which you can integrate in the aforementioned SuperTracker so you can modify your diet accordingly. Enter your weight loss goals, broken down by the month on you calendar, combine it with a new diet and maybe bits and pieces of a workout throughout the week and you now have a full schedule for keeping yourself in shape.

Step 3 – Track: Eating healthy, exercising and losing weight are all easy to track. You can keep an eye on your fitness, weight and diet on you computer or smartphone. For iOS, we like a few different tools. In particular, Lose It is a great calorie tracker, and RunKeeper is one of our favourite fitness trackers. For Android, we have some favourites as well, including the FastSecret Calorie Counter and CardioTrainer for tracking. For web and mobile purposes, Fitocracy and Fleetly are both excellent tools to tracking your workout. All of these tools combined allow you to track your workouts, your current weight and what you’re eating on a weekly basis. They’ll show you when you’re losing weight and how much so you can see if certain plans or diets are working better than others.

Photo by Konstantin Zamkov.

Manage Stress

Many of us are concerned about our stress levels and often equate decreasing stress to happiness. What’s more, stress has a direct relation to nearly everything else on this list, including smoking, alcohol consumption, money issues and health.

Step 1 – Form your resolution: Identify your stress and come up with a plan. These might include ideas like:

  • Take one personal day every two months to watch movies all day long.
  • Do yoga every Monday and Wednesday for one hour starting at 6pm.
  • Set aside two hours every Sunday for researching and making important decisions.

Step 2 – Schedule: Unfortunately, stress management is a hard beast to schedule around, but you can fill your calendar with days dedicated to curbing stress. As we outlined in a previous post, one way to deal with stress is to pick up a hobby. We’ll get to outlining ways for you to learn something new in a second, but hobbies can also include things like watching movies or playing video games. To this end, you can populate your calendar with scheduled “play days”, where you relax. If you have annual leave accrued, dedicate a day every couple months to a personal day. This is also a good time to plan out a yearly holiday. Even if you can’t afford a holiday at the moment, pick a date, put it on your calendar and work out the details later. Another possible method is to schedule in your worry time each week on your calendar so you can dedicate time to deal with your stress or schedule out renewal times for daily debriefings.

Step 3 – Track: No magical recipe for stress management exists, but you can track your progress of dealing with stress throughout the year. You can use the same calendar you already made as a tracking tool. First off, check off the days you scheduled off to make sure you’re taking those scheduled days off. Second, make a short note on the calendar when you experience stressful days and why they happen. You might start noticing a trend. For instance, maybe on Mondays you always work late and eat lunch at your desk. If this is happening every week, you can reclaim this time for yourself or plan around it to make it more manageable.

Photo by Robert Banh.

Manage Debt and Save Money

Credit card debt is at a record high, with Australian households racking up over $50 billion on the plastic. The idea that people might want to start cutting their debt down makes a lot of sense.

Step 1 – Form your resolution: Getting out of debt and saving money happen to be the two easiest resolutions to lay out in a concrete way. For instance:

  • Pay 20 per cent more than my minimum payment on my credit card debt every month by cutting out Starbucks.
  • Take my lunch to work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and transfer the $120 saved each month to a savings account.
  • Pay my credit card bill in full by August by adjusting my payments to $150 a month by working an extra day every other week.

Step 2 – Schedule: Managing debt and saving money are easy to schedule in advance. With your goals in hand, look at what you need to do each month and write it out. If you’re paying off a debt, figure out how much you want to pay and adjust the rest of your budget accordingly. If you’re saving money, do the same thing and set up an automatic withdrawal from your transaction account. If you need a little help, you can check out our guide to teaching friends to budget to pull a few tips for yourself. In order to manage your debt or save money, you need to recalibrate your budget and then work you goals and payments into your calendar.

Step 3 – Track: We’ve seen a lot of options for budgeting, but on iOS, we like Jumsoft Money. There are plenty of similar apps available for Android as well, so it’s worth having a look through the money category in the Android Market and trying out a few to see which one works best for you.

Quit Smoking and Drink Less Alcohol

Step 1 – Form your resolution: Set your quit date for smoking on a specific day. For drinking, consider curbing your intake by regulating days. Your resolution might be as simple as:

  • Quit smoking February 3.
  • Relegate drinking to Friday and Saturday evening, after 8pm.

Step 2 – Schedule: Theories exist that long-term treatment might be the best way to quit smoking. In this case, it’s an eight-week program followed by an additional 48 weeks of counseling when needed. A good place to find this support is QuitNow, which will provide you with a few tricks to quitting smoking. You can try dedicating one day a week to not smoking, and then start adding more days as the year goes on, with a big star next to your final quit day. To curb your alcohol consumption, consider picking one or two days a week where you can drink, then cut it every other day. Schedule these out on your calendar in a way you’re comfortable with.

Step 3 – Track: Two popular ways to quit smoking are by pacing and motivating. For pacing, iQuit for iOS is a free tool that uses a scheduled reduction method to cut back on your smoking. It shows you exactly how much you smoke and tells you when you can again. For Android, Smoker Reducer does the same thing. If you’re looking to cater your own plan and get some motivation, LiveStrong’s MyQuit Coach for iOS is a great place to start. You can set reduction methods, track your progress and get counselling when needed. For Android, you can track all the same numbers with QuitNow!. Both of these will show off the health benefits and also work in the money you’ve saved over time.

Learn a New Skill

Learning a new skill, trade or hobby is enjoyable on a lot of levels. Not only can it help increase your marketability as a worker, it also means you can tackle DIY projects on your own throughout the year, which will inevitably save you money.

Step 1 – Form your resolution: You need to start by deciding what skill you want to learn, but a good way to form your plan is to include your final goal. For instance:

  • Learn Kung Fu by taking a class once a week so by December I can audition as an extra in a Jackie Chan movie.

Step 2 – Schedule: Learning something new is an easy idea in theory, but it’s often difficult to find a good starting point. If you’re learning a new skill, finding a good book is a great place to start and makes it easy to plan your progress. You can treat this like a syllabus in a university class. When you’re scheduling out your year, tackle one chapter of the book every one or two weeks. If you’re learning a skill like programming or Photoshop, you can dedicate one day a week to reading and another to practising. You can also add in your own goals throughout the year. For instance, if you’re learning Photoshop, one early goal might be, “crop and remove redeye from all the family photos by June 2″, while a later goal might be, “use the picture of Billy on Santa’s lap to create a photo of him on a dragon with a sword in his hand”. You can also use our Lifehacker Night School guides if you’re interested in topics like building computers, making a website or learning to code.

Step 3 – Track: Tracking learning a new skill or hobby is easy enough that it doesn’t require any additional apps. Instead, you can refer back to your schedule when you need to and make sure you’re following it. If you get behind, take on an additional chapter one week, or shift everything back. If you’re learning a construction or artistic skill, consider sharing your final project with the rest of the world. Once you’ve finished your first DIY project, share it on a site like Instructables or WonderHowTo so we can all see how you did it. If you’ve dedicated the year to learning a kind of art, Deviant Art is great for getting feedback on art, and Soundcloud is a great place to showcase your songs for free. If you plan on sharing some of your projects, you’ll be documenting and tracking the process by default. It makes it easy to see exactly how much you’ve progressed and learned over the year.

Photo by Bill Bradford.

The most important thing to remember with new year’s resolutions, or any life-altering decisions you make, is that they’re not easy and you will occasionally fail. Hopefully, if you’ve planned it out well and you picked a realistic goal, your failure rate will be less. Even if you don’t make your target each month, stick with your plans, outlines and track everything you’re accomplishing. You’ll likely feel as good as if you had met those goals.