How to Make a New Year's Resolution You'll Actually Keep

Don't set yourself up for failure in 2014. Learn how to make totally achievable goals in the new year

As 2014 approaches, you’re probably setting some self-improvement goals for the new year. Unfortunately, we all know these resolutions have a very high failure rate, with only eight percent of folks successfully achieving them. Bah humbug!

The biggest reason resolutions and health goals fail is that we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. When goals are too ambitious, they can become overwhelming and we become easily discouraged. If you want to lose 100 pounds in a year, but have only lost seven by Valentine’s Day, you may give up altogether because of the lack of motivation and progress.

Another obstacle to achieving success may be overly restrictive goals -- basically anything that includes always or never. When we feel restricted, we are more tempted to cheat and eat for reasons other than hunger. Sure, it’s possible to totally avoid refined sugar, but without a replacement of some sort you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Tips for Setting Goals and Obtaining Them

You may have heard of the SMART method of goal-setting , making goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, but that is only the beginning.

Also remember to assess your starting point, put your goals in writing, make them positive and set milestones. Here’s how:

Specific: Writing a book may be a realistic goal -- if you make it specific. Without any direction, you may get stuck before you begin or you may start and stop, changing course repeatedly. If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.

Measurable: Goals that are measurable (or quantifiable) and achievable can be counted, seen, identified, etc. If your goal is about "feeling better,” you will need to figure out a rating mechanism like the Outcome Rating Scale, which helps you evaluate your quality of life, to keep track and recognize progress. If your goal is to cook more frequently, you’ll need to establish a baseline sample of how often you prepare food at home now and check in along the way.

Attainable: If you aren't a regular runner already, running a marathon within a year may be extremely difficult. There is little benefit in setting a goal that will only frustrate or disappoint you. You may need to focus on milestones within a larger goal instead, like running a mile, then a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon and finally a full one.

Relevant: What goals are most meaningful to you? If exercise is encouraged by your doctor, but you are not personally motivated to exercise, you aren't likely to follow through. Make sure you prioritize your goals by what’s important to you.

Time-bound: Professionally, my goals are broken down into steps that need to be taken each quarter. Is your due date the end of the year or will you make it more immediate? This “deadline” can help make or break your goal; again, it may be most advisable to break up a larger goal into smaller pieces with incremental due dates.

Assessed: Now that you have a good idea of what your goal is, it’s important to assess your starting point. When people set out to achieve a goal, rarely do they start from scratch. You’re likely to find something that you are already doing at least occasionally that is beneficial to your new goal. These things can be maximized as one of your first steps.

Written: People tend to achieve 80 percent of the goals they write down. And even though writing it down doesn't make you more likely to stick to your resolution, it does make it more visible and not easily forgotten. You may want to make a checklist, a vision board or a timeline to help you stay on task. Just don’t file it away; keep it in plain sight.

Positive: Even if you don't believe in "the secret" of the law of attraction, positive language is encouraging, forward-focused and much more motivating than negative language. Use "I will" rather that "I won't.” For example, rather than making your goal to "stop smoking," make it "to be smoke free by 2015.”

Milestones: You’ll be more likely to stick with your resolutions if they are broken down into smaller tasks throughout the year. For important and personal goals, I would suggest breaking the goal down into more noticeable milestones than quarterly steps. If your goal is weight loss, the steps do not all have to be a specific number of pounds lost; instead, the goal may be learning healthier recipes, trying out a yoga class or fixing the tires on your bike. The more milestones you include, the more positive reinforcement you’ll receive along the way that will encourage further action.

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