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It's easy to make New Year's resolutions. And it's even easier to break them. According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, nearly half of all Americans set goals for the upcoming year, but only 8 percent achieve them. However, there are lots of ways to increase your odds of success.
Hang tough for two months. It's commonly believed that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but there is no hard evidence to back up that number. Instead, researchers found that it can take between 18 and 254 days make a new behavior become automatic. The average time, however, was 66 days. Counting from January 1, aim to consciously stick with a routine until at least March 7.
Organize yourself for success. If you didn't think about your resolutions until late on Dec. 31 after quaffing a few glasses of Champagne, chances are you didn't prepare in advance to implement them. A 2012 study found that people who stuck with their goals organized themselves to face fewer temptations on a daily basis. For example, before you embark on your diet, clear out the holiday leftovers, stock the kitchen with healthy food, and devise a reasonable eating plan.
Set specific goals. Aiming to put $50 a week in your savings account or lose one pound a week is more effective than endeavoring to "save money" or "lose weight." Being focused on a specific aim helps you develop a clear road map.
Make your goals realistic. According to John Norcross, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and a behavior change expert, "Grandiose goals beget resignation and early failure." Instead of overreaching, revise your target upward as you make progress.
Use the buddy system. Enlist friend or family member to support you. Being accountable and having someone to encourage you can make all the difference in your ability to stick with your plan when your willpower starts to wane, usually around the end of January, according to Norcross. If you can afford it, you can outsource your support system by hiring a personal trainer, nutritionist, or other expert to help you achieve your goals. There are also plenty of cheap and free apps to keep you motivated.
Go public. Like using the buddy system, making your goals public keeps you accountable. Whether it's quitting smoking or writing a poem a week, you can state your goals to friends or find a wider group though social media or Internet forums.
Track your progress regularly. Research shows that people who weigh in daily are more likely to lose weight and keep it off, and the same principle is true for the benefits of keeping track of other types of progress. In a column for the New York Times, John Tierney, co-author of "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength" writes, "Self-monitoring is vital to any kind of resolution," and points out that fitness-focused tools, such as Fitbit wristbands or the personal-finance tracker Mint.com make it easier than ever to do so.
And if you fall off the wagon? Don't give up. Research has shown that skipping a day of your desired behavior won't reduce your overall chances of achieving your goals. In fact, according to Norcross, about 70 percent of people who experience a slip-up become more resolved to succeed.
— Sarah B. Weir