Health

Get happy by actually keeping your new resolutions

Resolutions are easy enough to make, but often a lot harder to keep. Gretchen Rubin, happiness guru and author of The Happiness Project, recently posted on her site a list of helpful tips for actually sticking to them:

Resolutions are easy enough to make, but often a lot harder to keep. Gretchen Rubin, happiness guru and author of The Happiness Project, recently posted on her site a list of helpful tips for actually sticking to them:

1. Be specific. Don’t resolve to “Make more friends” or “Strengthen friendships”; that’s too vague.
2. Write it down.
3. Review your resolution constantly.
4. Hold yourself accountable. Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart (my method) – whatever works for you.
5. Think big. Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure – a trip to a foreign place, a break-up, a move, a new job.
6. Think small. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference.
7. Ask for help.
8. Consider making only pleasant resolutions.
9. Consider giving up a resolution. Put your energy toward changes that are both realistic and helpful. Don’t let an unfulfilled resolution to lose twenty pounds or to overhaul your overgrown yard block you from making other, smaller resolutions that might give you a big happiness boost.
10. Keep your resolution every day.
11. Set a deadline.
12. Don’t give up if something interferes with your deadline.
13. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Thank you, Voltaire. Instead of starting your new exercise routine by training for the marathon, aim for a 20-minute walk each day.

I’m not a big resolution maker, but three of these strike a chord with me: Thinking small, making pleasant resolutions and avoiding perfection. First off, I’m a big fan of incremental change, and I believe that small changes matter. What are the odds that you’ll be able to stick to radical change? If you start small with manageable goals that aren’t a complete departure from your existing habits, it’s easier to keep your new promise to yourself – and I think there are few things that make someone happier than that.

Second, resolutions too often involve things people dread: new exercise regiments, abstaining from alcohol, unpalatable but healthy foods. We need to consider enjoyable ways to reach our goals. A while ago, when I was casting around to join a gym, I decided to spend a little extra money for a nice place with a new saltwater pool because I love swimming and I knew that it would be a serious motivator to actually get out of my house and go. And I was right: even on days when it’s snowing and -5, I live by the Adult Lap Swim schedule.

And finally, accept that perfection isn’t possible, and that breaking a resolution doesn’t make you a failure. Don’t make your resolution an all-or-nothing proposition. If you didn’t make it to the gym, take a long walk. If you got drunk the night before and slept through your French class, spend 30 minutes in the afternoon conjugating some verbs. We spend too much time beating ourselves up for mistakes we’ve made and not enough time thinking about how we can productively move forward – and the start of a brand new year is the perfect time to focus on how you can be nice to yourself starting now.