December 2015

7 Tricks to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Author: Kent Thune

If you are like most normal human beings in America, you begin January by packing away the holiday decorations and watching football on television. Then you make your New Year’s resolutions. The list of goals for the New Year usually consists of some combination of personal health, personal finance and personal ambition, like this: Lose weight. Make more money. Go to the gym. Save more money. Eat more vegetables. Spend less money. Eat less saturated fat. Visit a foreign country. Write a novel.

Does that sound familiar? Resolutions sound good when writing them down. And we have good intentions when making them. But we’re pretty lousy at implementing them. Why is this?

Whether you know it or not, failure is just as much a choice as are the resolutions you make. And it is with that backdrop that we give you these tricks to keep your New Year’s resolutions:

1. Know yourself.
A crucial aspect of success in almost any endeavor is self-knowledge. And it is the lack of self-knowledge that is at the core of failure. While most of us know ourselves in terms of our own basic strengths and weaknesses, we lack the knowledge of ourselves as human beings. In different words, we don’t fully understand what’s going on in our brains.

Put simply, we have two competing forces: There’s the primitive, survival-oriented portion of the brain, and then there’s the most recently evolved, rational, frontal lobe. The former is rewarded with pleasure and the latter (hopefully) provides enough good judgment to prevent us from harming ourselves.

So how do you help the rational triumph over the pleasure-seeking? You need to outsmart your brain, or put differently, you need to trick it.

2. Understand and overcome your ‘will to fail.’
Dorothea Brande, author of the classic 1936 self-improvement book, Wake Up and Live!, philosophized that human beings have a latent “will to fail” that prevents them from realizing their ambitions. A scientist or psychologist might describe this with terms such as inertia or lack of self-confidence.

But people who are successful can envision succeeding in their goals before implementing them. There is no “Plan B” or thought of losing. You can accomplish what you set your mind to do.

In her book, Brande provides a seven-word formula that can break this unhealthy will: “Act as if it were impossible to fail.” She also discovered and lived her philosophy of success with her top-selling 1934 book, Becoming a Writer.

3. Make your goals obtainable.
With the confidence of overcoming your will to fail, you are still wise to understand that you have only a limited amount of willpower. With this self-knowledge, it’s easy to see why setting the bar too high with unreasonable resolutions is not a good idea.

Since your supply of self-control is finite, make resolutions that require small acts of will, not large feats of heroism. For example, “Lose 10 pounds” is a specific and reasonable goal. But don’t plan or expect to do it in January. Instead try losing two pounds per month. And by May, you will have succeeded (and will look great when it’s time to hit the beach). As you meet each monthly goal, you’ll feel good about the accomplishment, and your success will help bolster your resolve.

4. Make ‘sub-resolutions’ where appropriate.
Most resolutions actually require many behavior changes. Sure, some are straightforward, like remembering to take a 30-minute walk every day—but a successful weight-loss program, for example, calls for more than just a simple decision. You have to shop and cook differently, start an exercise routine, or eat out at restaurants less often. Therefore, a resolution to lose weight requires several “sub-resolutions” that involve behavioral and environmental adjustments.

Similarly, if you want to quit smoking, you’ll need to get rid of your ashtrays and lighters, rearrange the furniture in your favorite smoking room, and possibly spend less time with your smoking buddies. Or if you want to nurture or get back into a talent or pleasurable activity, such as playing a musical instrument, be sure that the instrument is easily accessible. A guitar player, for example, should keep his or her six-string sitting on a stand or hanging on the wall, rather than in its case, tucked away in a closet.

5. Acknowledge your successes.
Making resolutions to change our bad behaviors and form newer, healthier ones can remind us of our lacking traits. People beat themselves up about still needing to lose the baby weight or no longer going to spin class at the gym.

But the list of things they have done is likely to be much longer than the list of things left undone. So don’t overlook the many things that required major self-discipline to accomplish, like building a retirement nest egg, or finishing the training program that got you the better job, or getting your kids to their various after-school activities for nine months out of the year.

Even better, rather than focusing on the two or three things you’d like to change or improve, try writing down 10 things that you’ve successfully maintained or accomplished in your life. Acknowledging your successes will remind you that you are winner, not a loser. And remember that you are human—you will slip and eat a bag of chips during a weak moment. Forgive yourself and get back on track.

6. Keep your goals in front of you… literally!
Write down the goal and visualize it regularly. “Writing and visualizing are effective tools for fulfilling a goal because they fix it firmly in the subconscious,” said Stephen Covey, author of groundbreaking book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

People who put their goals on paper are significantly more likely to achieve them than those who just make mental wishes. Write down your resolutions but also include plans and implementation strategies to achieve them. Also, posting your goals in places where you will see them frequently can improve your success rate.

Another strategy for keeping goals in front of you is to tell your friends about them. Making a public commitment adds motivation; having someone hold you accountable can be a powerful tool. Even better, have your friends join you in the goals. Take walks together, go grocery shopping together, join the gym together. Big and long-term goals are more easily achieved with the buddy system.

7. Do it for you, not other people.
Don’t make resolutions that you “should” want or what other people tell you to want. It has to fit with your own values. For example, what exactly does “overweight” mean? Do you really need to lose 10 pounds to be healthy, or is there social pressure telling you to do so? Ironically, the stress over making a large effort to change what doesn’t really need changing can be more detrimental to your health than maintaining what is truly a healthy weight for you.

Instead, begin with a broad resolution, such as “form healthier habits,” then make the sub-resolutions that fit your needs and lifestyle. Perhaps this would involve eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer saturated fats and lattes, or it might include taking more walks and spending less time on social media.

Above all, resolve to be the best you that you can be. From there, you will know what to do. 

Kent Thune is a money manager and the owner of a Hilton Head Island investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. He is also a freelance writer and is currently working on a book to be published in 2016. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at TheFinancialPhilosopher.com or on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

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