Dr. Jeff Brown

The Procrastinor’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions

9 Easy Tricks for Reaching Goals Any Time of the Year

So you haven’t pulled the trigger on a New Year’s resolution yet?  In the wake of holiday parties, writing thank you notes, packing away decorations, and taking returns to the mall—you just haven’t had time to give it serious thought, right?

The Babylonians who started this New Year’s tradition centuries ago sure weren’t dealing with the multitasking malaise facing us today:  backed-up email, cell phones sounding off, ticking parking meters, and a dozen schedules required to keep our family on track.  Keeping with tradition (darned those Babylonians!), there are a few tricks which might just help you make your New Year’s resolution appear before your very eyes—and stick this time.  Wait no longer and take a deep breath.

1. Make your resolution by the end of the month. 

I think we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to the timing of a resolution.   We think we need to do it on January 1st—and that’s it.  Take some time, think it through, and don’t make a hasty decision.  Really, a resolution is about change—something that takes time.  If you don’t decide what your resolution will be until the end of the month, no big deal. 

2.  Make a handful of small resolutions, not just one substantial one.

Don’t spend too much time trying to narrow your choice to only one major resolution.  Think about your resolution success statistically.  Choose more than one resolution to increase your hit rate on compliance.  Perhaps you want to have a financial resolution, a social resolution, and a health resolution.  Be as creative as you need to be, but be sure you don’t limit yourself to only one.

3. Resolve for the next month, not the whole year.

Yes, one month at a time will get the job done, too.  Do the math—twelve months still equals a year.  Plus, by renewing your resolution monthly, you’re allowed a chance to review your strategies and personal values.  It’s not a game changer if you decide your resolution needs to be different one month.  In fact, developing personal insight is healthy and encouraged.

4. Create an objective and measurable resolution.

Sure, it sounds good to want to “be a better person in new year,” but that doesn’t cut it these days.  A generic resolution that’s not measurable will set you up for failure.  It needs to be specific to be successful.  Volunteering in the community is a positive resolution, but it’s even better when you say you’ll volunteer five hours each week.  Just make sure you have time to do it.  Losing weight is another popular resolution, but be smart about how much you are going to lose before you start trying.  You can loose fifty pounds—five pounds at a time—but not all at the same time.   Time, frequency, and duration are easy ways to measure your resolution and keep it objective.

5. Don’t shoot for the moon.

If you haven’t been moving your body lately, you probably won’t be running a marathon soon.  When the goals are too high, people often don’t follow through.   Rationalization kicks in to the beat of “I won’t be able to do it any way, so why bother.”  Remember your personal limits and make your challenge reasonable.  And yes, if you do create a physical health resolution, you should get a physical exam before thrusting yourself into any new exercise routine.

6. Write down your resolution and keep it in a special place.

There is something about writing down a commitment or obligation that helps some people remember it and stay serious about it.  This concept is logical since we frequently sign contracts, leases, letters, and checks.  Every time we do, we are committing to an obligation that represents our character and requires something of us.  Go ahead and sign your name to your resolution if you would like.  Even post it in a place where you’ll see it often.

7. Keep your resolution plan simple and flexible.

It won’t just happen on its own.  Reaching a goal is like making a trip in the car.  You need to know how you are going to get where you plan to go.  Map out the path to your goal.  Be sure to devise a plan that drives you directly to success, rather than detouring you through Excuseville.  You may find it helpful to involve friends or family, do some reading on the topic, get a mentor, brush up on some old skills, or eliminate something from your schedule to make room for new ways of thinking or behaving.

8. Allow failure to encourage you. 

Research reminds us over and over that failure is part of success—it’s not a jumping off point.  Many think that resolutions are all or nothing.  If they aren’t successful for an entire year, then they are complete failures.  It really shouldn’t be that way.  For example, smokers may need to relapse seven or eight times before finally stopping their habit.  Failure certainly isn’t a license to give yourself permission to indulge, but it is evidence that you are trying to make a change and that something is happening.

9. Reward yourself for meeting your goal.

For many of us, just keeping the resolution and meeting the goal is rewarding in itself.  However, it may not hurt to have an extra incentive dangling in front of you just in case a little boost of encouragement is needed when the going gets tough.  How do you reward yourself?

To learn more about setting resolutions, join me in a Twitter discussion about resolutions (#abcDrBchat) with ABC News Health and Medical Editor Richard Besser, MD from 1 to 2 PM Eastern on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.  You can start by following me on Twitter @DrJeffreyBrown.  You can also read more about success in my best-selling book The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success.