How to make this year's resolutions stick
Two small shifts that will make boundaries, exercising, healthy eating, reading more, being more social, or ANY new habit more successful
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Happy new year! Many of you have told me that 2024 is the year of boundaries—recognizing you need them, setting them with more confidence, and holding them more effectively. But without a concrete plan, this goal will be hard to implement.
Do you tackle the big boundaries first (for the most relief), or build up your confidence with smaller wins?
Should you start by setting a boundary with someone else, or with yourself?
Where, when, and how should you have these conversations—phone, text, in-person, email; ahead of time or in the moment?
What if you’re already overcommitted and resentful and exhausted and saying yes to things you don’t really want to do and IT’S ONLY JANUARY 2nd?
This phenomenon isn’t unique to a boundary goal in the new year. Many people find the initial motivation and excitement of any new year goal, whether it’s journaling, eating more vegetables, reading more books, or starting an exercise program, naturally wears off in a few weeks. Even if you have a plan for your reading time or gym sessions, if you’re not purposefully creating space (physical, mental, and emotional) for your new behaviors habits, other areas of life will creep in, take up that space, and push your initiatives aside.
Let’s talk about two specific, actionable strategies to help you stay consistent with whatever resolutions you’ve set for 2024.
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Strategy 1: Employ the pause
One of my foundational habit strategies is don’t say yes to anything automatically. Turn this into a black-and-white rule (like, you always do this, instead of sometimes doing this), which makes it easier for the brain to follow.
Don’t say yes to anything automatically.
To protect your time, energy, mental health, and space, you need to be able to identify where and when others (or yourself!) may try to erode your new healthy behaviors and habits. To maintain your New Year’s resolution (or any new goal), you’ll need to protect your time, energy, and space. But we can’t do that if someone asks something of us, and we immediately agree to be nice or gain their approval.
From now on, don’t agree to anything on the spot—unless it’s not a request (your boss saying, "please come to my office?") or it’s an unequivocal "hell yes" (your spouse saying, “can my parents take the kids this weekend?") The length of your pause will depend on the context—it may be a few moments, or a few hours, or a few days, but there is always a pause.
Them: "Should we get another glass of wine?" You: "Not right now, I’m good." Give yourself time and space to determine whether another glass serves your goal of getting up early tomorrow to work out.
Them: "Can you volunteer on Tuesday morning at school?" You: "I’m not sure—I’ll let you know in an hour." Then evaluate whether (and how) your Tuesday morning plans could accommodate the interruption.
Them: "Can you babysit for me on Saturday?" You: "I’ll let you know by tomorrow morning." Check in with yourself to make sure giving up your Saturday won’t throw your goals off-track, and shift them to accommodate if you want to say yes.
It might not seem like a big deal to say yes to any one of those things (and put your own plans off), but these add up fast—and pretty soon, you haven’t read a page/done a workout/cooked a healthy meal in weeks. Employing the pause here will also help you ingrain the next strategy more easily, and round out a solid foundation for your new healthy habit.
Strategy 2: Set yourself up to win
Your second concrete strategy is to make checking off your New Year’s resolution near-effortless, day after day. This concept, which Dr. B.J. Fogg calls ”tiny habits,” allows you to build consistency with the habit while accumulating small wins.
Make your daily resolution action tiny.
With any new habit, consistency is key. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter how many pages you read, how far you run, or how fancy you make your veggies—only that you do the thing you said you were going to do consistently. Once the habit becomes ingrained, it’s much easier to do more or add to it.
Boundaries: Check in with yourself once a day to ask, “What do I need, how do I feel, what would make me feel comfortable?” That’s your tiny win.
Journaling: Commit to writing one sentence a day. Even if it’s, “I don’t know what to write today.” That’s your tiny win.
Reading: Commit to reading one paragraph a day or listening for two minutes while you brush your teeth. The act of opening the book is your tiny win.
Eating more veggies: Commit to eating one vegetable a day. If you eat a single baby carrot or one forkful of spinach, that’s your tiny win!
Exercising: Commit to 2 minutes of movement a day. Maybe it’s climbing up and down your stairs, walking up and down your driveway, doing sets of 10 squats throughout the day, or running 2 for minutes on the treadmill. Two minutes is your tiny win!
There’s a trick here, though—can you see it? If you’re committing to these tiny wins, you will need to plan and prepare for them. When will you check in with yourself—as part of your morning routine, at lunch, or before bed? When will you write, read, or exercise? Try tying it to an existing habit (like listening when you brush your teeth, journaling with lunch, or doing 10 squats every time you go to the bathroom) is an easy way keep it consistent. Where are you going to get that baby carrot or spinach? You’ll have to make sure you have fresh or frozen veggies on every shopping list.
Putting it together
It seems like reading one paragraph, doing 2 minutes of stair-climbs, or eating a single carrot isn’t going to be enough to get you to your health goal. But so often, resolutions fail because our goals are too grand, too demanding, or too numerous. If you don’t have a habit of exercising, expecting to jump into an hour a day, five days a week on January 1st is setting yourself up for failure (unless you have no kids and no job). And a list that’s a mile long (I’m going to read and work out and floss) burns you out even faster.
Instead, make the habit itself the goal. Create a habit of carving out time for movement. Create the habit of reaching for veggies with your snack. Create the habit of having a book nearby. Then, we’re going to practice carving out time, space, and energy to uphold those tiny habits by employing a pause, checking in with ourselves, and holding our boundaries. If you can make this happen consistently, trust me—the rest will follow.
Habits don’t change overnight, especially when they’re uncomfortable. But these two concrete actions can help you create the foundation of your new year’s goals, and offers you a specific plan to help you truly succeed with your New Year’s resolution.