We all have goals we want to achieve and habits we want to change. Yet too often we stand in our own way, because we don’t know how to change our behavior in a sustainable, lasting manner. For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of the most effective tips and strategies to set a solid commitment and make a change for good. So without further ado, here are 36 tips to make resolutions that stick.
Tip #1 Link Goals to Values
The best goals are linked to choices about how you want to be in the world; the intrinsic qualities of being and doing you want to reflect in your actions. A choice like that is not a list of pros and cons, but by the whole of you. Don’t turn your life direction over entirely to your problem-solving mind. If you want to commit to a behavior change, link that resolution to a values choice you’ve made with your whole self.
Tip #2 Pick a Hero and Be Guided
If you are going to change in an area, pick a guide or a hero whose life reflects qualities you admire in that area – someone you deeply respect. Imagine that they can read your mind and as you consider the resolutions you want to make, mentally ask for guidance and wisdom from the guide you have picked. Tweak the resolution based on that wisdom within.
Tip #3 Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
When you intend to make a change, start with a S.M.A.R.T. goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-focused, and Time Bound. It does not help to have a vague intention like “I will be better”, because it has no increments of progress. Instead, apply the SMART formula and set a goal like “I will go on the treadmill each Wednesday for 30 minutes.”
Tip #4 Assess Certainty
After you have made a plan about what you wish to change, make sure to check in with yourself: What is your level of certainty on a scale of 1 to 10? If you are certain at an 8 or above, great! Give your plan a try and see how it works. If you are certain at a 7 or below, adjust your plan to increase your level of certainty. If you need some extra inspiration, take a close look at the other tips on this list and give some of them a try.
Tip #5 Start With One
When we set goals, we are often motivated and become overly ambitious. As a result, we try to fix too many issues at once, leaving us quickly depleted and exhausted. Don’t fall for this trap! It’s better to focus on only ONE area at a time. The less you need to change, the better you can focus your attention and energy where you really need it.
Tip #6 Start Imperfect
No change is going to be nice and clean from the beginning. Instead, there will be a lot of shortcomings and early falls. This is alright. Allow yourself to make mistakes, and know that imperfection is part of the process. You can always optimize later on. What matters is not whether you start out perfect, but whether you are willing to continue when the circumstances are less than ideal.
Tip #7 Start Small
When making a change, we are often tempted to go all out. We don’t just start dieting, but decide to cut out all forms of sugar for good. This is not only unnecessary, but also unsustainable. Instead, it’s better to start small. Don’t just quit all sugar, but start by drinking no soda during weekdays. And then build from there. Slow, but sustainable. If your mind tells you its too small to matter, laughingly agree and make it even smaller!
Tip #8 Grow Slow
It’s not enough to start small. You also want to make sure you grow in a small, slow manner. For instance, when you want to build your reading habit, don’t jump from 10 to 60 minutes of reading each day. Instead, grow slow and add just 5 minutes to your daily reading time every week. This is not sexy and it will not lead to quick results. However, it will also be more sustainable and give you the time you need to adjust to your new habit.
Tip #9 Track Your Progress
When you get easily overwhelmed by a big goal, this next tip is for you: Track your progress and watch how far you come each day, week, and month. This will allow you to break down a big goal (like losing 50 pounds) into manageable chunks (like losing 1 pound each week), and will keep your commitment steady when you feel like giving up. You can track your progress by making a mark in your calendar each day you follow through. Or you can use an excel sheet on your laptop or an app on your smartphone. Whichever method you use, make sure to track your progress.
Tip #10 Focus on Effort
When you have a big goal in mind, it’s easy to become overly focused on it. Every step you take will be measured against this end goal, leaving you quickly frustrated, because progress can’t happen fast enough. Instead, it’s better to put your focus on your effort.
Don’t focus on acing the exam, but on putting in the hours of studying. Don’t focus on losing 50 pounds, but on keeping to your diet. Get the effort right, and see what follows.
Tip #11 Get A Partner
This next tip is probably one of the most effective ones on this entire list. Every goal is easier to achieve with an honest partner by your side. It can be your spouse, a trusted friend, or even a stranger on an online forum. Tell him or her what your plans are and let them keep you accountable on your progress. It’s even better when he or she wants to accomplish a similar goal of their own, so you can hold each other motivated and accountable.
Tip #12 Accountability Routine
It is not enough to just track your progress. You also want to have an accountability routine to check in with yourself. This can be a weekly (or monthly) time where you ask yourself whether what you have been doing is working out for you. If it does, great! And if not, also great! Because now you have the opportunity to adjust your plan and change your course of action. If you have a partner (see Tip #11) you can also agree on an accountability routine together – whether over phone or over a cup of coffee.
Tip #13 Make a Public Announcement
If you want to make sure you follow through, it can help to increase the social pressure. Announce your intention for making a change in public. You can either post an update on your social media, or you can inform your friends and family in person. Depending on your goal (and the people in your life), you will receive pushback, indifference, or support. In either case, you will have more eyes on you, which will increase the pressure to stand by your word and follow through on your goal.
Tip #14 Boost Good Habits
When you want to build better habits, there is a simple guideline to guarantee your success: Make it easy to follow through on your good habit. Do you want to work out in the morning? Then get your work out gear ready the evening before! Do you want to be more grateful? Then put a reminder post-it note on your fridge and bathroom mirror! Every little step to make it easier to follow through on your good habit can make a big difference.
Tip #15 Sabotage Bad Habits
The same strategy applies to your bad habits, but in the opposite direction: Make it harder to follow through on your bad habits. Do you want to quit smoking? Then get rid of the remaining cigarettes and ashtrays in your apartment! Do you want to stop watching TV? Then unplug it and put it in the basement! This may sound excessive, but you know best which strategy works for you. Set up those barriers early and often. Creativity is key, and every step to make it harder to follow through on your bad habits can make a big difference.
Tip #16 Set Up Values Triggers
Sometimes a little nudge can go a long way. Set up a little reminder to remember the values at stake – why your goal is important to you. If you want to exercise so you will be alive when your kids graduate, put their photo in the hall, touch it as you go by and remember your resolution. This can be a note in your wallet. It can be a background picture on your phone. It can be a piece of jewelry. Any form is good, as long as it works for you.
Tip #17 Choose an Action Trigger
Starting a new habit can feel uncomfortable, making us postpone taking action or even skip entirely. For this reason, it helps to choose a trigger that alerts you to take action. You can pick a specific time to get started. Or you can choose a general trigger like each morning you get out of bed, or every evening when you get home.
Tip #18 Link New Actions to Old
One of the best ways to build a new habit is to expand an old one. If you always drink coffee in the morning, and want to do more push ups, do a short round of push ups each morning as the coffee brews. Do not drink a drop until the push-ups have been done.
Tip #19 Set a Reward
Every new action is more fun when there’s a reward waiting for you. You can reward yourself when you have achieved a milestone, like buying concert tickets after you have finished your latest work project. This is especially helpful if your partner is given some control over the consequence (e.g., give those tickets to your partner to give back only if the resolution has been met). Regardless which rewards you choose, make sure it is something you genuinely enjoy.
Tip #20 Set a Small Punishment
Instead of rewarding yourself, you can also choose the opposite route. Pick and choose a punishment in case you fail your goal. For instance, you can pledge to donate a certain amount of money in case you revert back to bad, old habits. You can even make it harder, by donating to a cause that goes against your beliefs and values. Again, regardless which punishment you choose, make sure it is something you genuinely dislike. Make it public – share it with a trusted partner, so you can not escape your punishment.
Tip #21 Get a Professional
This is another candidate for most effective tip on this list. Whichever goal you wish to achieve, get a trained professional. Do you want to get a flat stomach? Get a fitness trainer! Do you want to improve your mental state? Get a psychologist! Do you want to improve your writing? Get a writing coach! Yes, it can be expensive, but it can also help you achieve your goal faster and better than you would ever be able to do on your own.
Tip #22 Get Equipment
You can get more invested in your new-born habit by literally investing in it. Get yourself the proper equipment to move ahead on your goal. If you want to start meditating, get yourself a meditation cushion. If you want to start journaling, get yourself a fancy pen and journal. By investing in your goal, you will strengthen your commitment — you can also use small upgrades as rewards.
Tip #23 Attend Classes
Whatever goal you have in mind, there are likely going to be courses about it. Search your area and find a class for you to attend. This will not only bring you into contact with experienced teachers, it will also allow you to meet other people with shared goals and aspirations. Surrounding yourself with people on a similar path as your own is one of the most effective steps you can take toward achieving your goal.
Tip #24 Join Online Groups
If you can’t attend a real-life class, try this next tip: Join an online group devoted to your goal. Whether we are talking about dieting, exercising, reading, writing, meditating, financing, nail-biting, or any other topic, there will be a forum devoted entirely to your goal. Joining such a group will allow you to – yet again – meet people with similar goals, and give you a place for questions, feedback, insights and support.
Tip #25 Read an Evidence-Based Book
Here is an amazing fact about the world: Right now there are thousands of people all over the planet who are experts in whatever you wish to accomplish. And even better, plenty of them have taken the time to distill their wisdom into written words for you to purchase. Research your choices and make sure they are based on good data. Now it’s up to you to go out and read that book! (Here’s my new one!). Well-chosen books will not only make you more knowledgeable, but they also help you strengthen your overall commitments.
Tip #26 Write a Commitment Contract
Everything is more official when it is put into writing. For this reason, write a contract about your commitment. You can specify your commitment and how you will start taking new action. You can even include a section why this goal is important to you. After you have written everything down, make sure to sign it with your full name (after all, this is a contract). You can now display it so it can act as a frequent reminder of your resolution.
Tip #27 Write a Commitment Diary
When you start taking new action, you will have good and bad days. And during these ups and downs, it can help to write a commitment diary. This means every day you write a little about your resolution: What was today like? What went well? What was hard? And what have you learned? Taking the time to answer these questions can not only strengthen your commitment, but also provide you with valuable lessons and insights.
Tip #28 Write Sentence Stems
Sentence stems are one of the most effective tools to boost your motivation and find creative solutions to complex problems. For this reason, take your time to write five sentence stems each day. All you have to do, is find an ending to the following sentence: “If I’m truly serious about X, I will…” (Replace “X” with your goal in mind). Try to come up with an answer as fast as possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong, or if you repeat yourself. Do it daily, and you will soon realize that you are full of ideas on how to achieve your goal.
Tip #29 Practice Patience
This might just be the tip you don’t want, but definitely need. When attempting to make a change it’s important to practice patience. Your goal might be very hard to reach. It might be a long way off in the future. And you may need to start more than once, with a lot of failure and setbacks in between. That’s alright. Don’t get discouraged. Instead, practice patience and know that hardship and pain are sometimes part of the journey.
Tip #30 Defuse From Self Talk
Your mind can be your own worst enemy. It constantly spits out difficult thoughts, like how you are a failure, why you will never accomplish your goal, and that you just don’t have what it takes. And when your mind threatens to take over, defuse from this unhelpful self talk. There are many different techniques you can use, and explaining them all would go beyond the scope of this article. Instead, click here and learn how to effectively defuse from negative self-talk.
Tip #31 Observe, Accept, and Describe Discomfort
Quite often we quit our good intentions in an attempt to stop feeling uncomfortable. Don’t let this be you. Instead, you can learn to observe your discomfort consciously and mindfully, open up to it and label where and what you feel. What does the pain feel like? How does it change? And can you allow yourself to feel a bit more uncomfortable? The more you open up to discomfort, the more you become free to do what matters to you. For more insights into dealing with discomfort, click here.
Tip #32 If You Are Going to Slip, Slip Consciously
When we slip back into bad habits, we often don’t do it from a place of conscious savoring, but from a place of mindlessness. We almost forget what we are doing while we are doing it. If you are going to slip, make it a point to slip consciously. Yes, bite your nails, but ONLY if you do it slowly, openly, consciously, and mindfully. Nothing but a full focus on your bad habit. You may be surprised to find it is hardly the big treat your mind claims it is. Feel free to stop anytime.
Tip #33 Experiment
All of the tips on this list work for some people, and probably none work for all people. It is up to you to find out which work best for you. Experiment with different techniques and strategies. Keep what works and throw out what doesn’t. This is a continuous process, and only by continuous experimenting will you find an approach that truly works for you.
Tip #34 Plan For Failure
The unfortunate reality is, you will experience setbacks. A plan will not go according to plan. And an intention will break apart. That is life. Instead of agonizing over your next failure, plan ahead! What will you do when you mess up? How can you quickly catch yourself and recommit to your goal? The better you plan for failure, the better you are able to bounce back and learn from your next misstep.
Tip #35 Take a Break
Sometimes making a change is not a good idea. Sometimes your circumstances are against you, and you find yourself fighting against windmills. In these cases, it’s best to take a break. You don’t have to constantly push yourself. Let it rest. And then, after you have had some time to recover, with renewed energy, make a new attempt and go for it.
Tip #36 Get Started
One of the simplest, but most effective tips is this: Just get started. Doesn’t matter how. Just do something. Don’t wait for the perfect time to go to the gym, but get down and do five push ups now. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to start meditating, but close your eyes and meditate for 60 seconds now. You will never magically feel like taking action unless you start taking action. So get started, right here, right now.