Early January is always filled with resolve, but by March, that resolve has often turned to regret.
Follow our expert-driven 10 steps, and you are sure (or at least more likely) to have shed those extra pounds, quit smoking or written more thank-you notes by year's end. Here's what the pros say you need to do to keep your New Year's resolutions.
Set SMART goals
1Susan Steinbrecher, president and CEO of Steinbrecher & Associates leadership development company, says the most critical component of sticking to a resolution is setting it. She uses what goal experts call the SMART test, advising eager resolution makers to ask whether the pledge is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.
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"The first problem is that people make statements, not goals," Steinbrecher says, adding that "I want to lose weight" is not a goal --"I want to lose 10 pounds by March" is.
Envision the end result
2Mike Armour, president of Dallas-based Strategic Leadership Development International, says setting a goal is the first step, and the second is envisioning what the end result will look like.
"You should make a mental picture of yourself and make it as appealing as you can," Armour suggests.
That mental picture can range from a snapshot of yourself sporting a new beach body to an image of your newly organized pantry.
Elliot Connie, a Keller-based licensed professional counselor, agreed that picturing an end result is crucial.
"If your goal is to fight less with your spouse, you need to say to yourself, 'I know my goal will be accomplished when x happens,'" he says. This is especially important for the more abstract goals, like "being happier" -- defining what that happiness will look like is an important step to achieving it.
Create a timeline for your resolution
3Getting fit, organizing your home, spending more time with family, getting out of debt, taking more photos -- it's clear that the most common New Years resolutions are lifelong goals with no expiration date. That's why it's important to set a timeline or mile markers to help you stay focused.
"You have to take it one bite at a time," Steinbrecher says. "Set up a milestone or checkpoint then celebrate and re-evaluate when you get there."
If your goal, generally, is to get organized, promise yourself you'll have your bedroom closet detailed by the end of January. On Feb. 1, celebrate your clean closet and set your next task -- perhaps organizing the pantry.
Define your motivation and surround yourself with it
4No goal can be met without the proper motivation, and the tougher the task, the more motivation you will need. Take time to define why you want to lose that weight, take more photos or stay in closer contact with your family. Write down your reasons, and then give yourself regular reminders of them.
"Surround yourself with motivation, purposefully," Steinbrecher says. If the Victoria's Secret swimsuit catalog inspires you to work out, tape a page to your bathroom mirror. Save a photo of your grandparents as your smartphone background if it helps you remember to call them.
Get your tools ready
5It's easy to put off tasks when you don't have the supplies at hand. Sit down and write out all of the tools that you will need to meet your goal, our experts advise. If weight loss is your resolution, know that you will need exercise equipment, workout DVDs or a gym membership, along with a pantry full of healthy food.
If you want to take more pictures, be sure you have a camera and some photo-organization software for your computer. If you have the motivation and the tools, it will be tough(er) to justify procrastination.
Block out time
6"I don't have enough time" serves as an excuse for putting off almost any goal, so it is important to cut off the age-old scapegoat immediately, the experts say. Determine how much time you will need to devote to your goal each week and schedule it -- put it on your home and work calendar so you aren't tempted to double-book.
If organization is your goal, devote three hours each Saturday morning to the big projects and promise yourself that the 10 minutes before bedtime is for putting away the day's clutter. Schedule morning workouts if your afternoons are booked, and block out commuting time for talking (hands-free, of course) on the phone with relatives.
Know your weaknesses
7Identifying your trip-up triggers is crucial to staying on task, Steinbrecher says.
"You have to know what gets you off the wagon," she advised. Does stress push you to smoke, or do you binge eat at lunch if you skip breakfast? Take a deep look at your behavior and identify what causes you to slip up -- then find ways to prevent goal-blockers.
Armour suggests subduing any cravings to cheat with a physical activity. Answer three o'clock sugar or cigarette cravings with a walk around the block or a jaunt up and down the office stairs -- the physical exertion will help take your mind off the craving.
Identify your strengths
8Connie quoted a friend when he said that no human is perfect, but in the same tune, no human is perfectly imperfect. Chances are, there has been a stage in your life when you were achieving your current goal -- identify the bright spots, and examine the behavior that surrounded them, he advises.
Look at the last time you took a lot of photos, were super-organized or were getting along better with your family. Ask yourself what spurred that behavior, and try to emulate it.
Find a partner or support group
9"Commit to your goal with a friend, or find a support group," Steinbrecher says. "It will help you with accountability."
Going at a goal alone is tough work; finding a support system makes it a lot easier. If none of your friends or family shares your resolution, look for a support group in your area or find a helpful online community.
Connie warned against asking an uninterested friend or spouse to commit to a goal with you -- if they aren't dedicated or motivated, it's not worth having a companion goal setter. Instead, voice your goals to your friends and tell them what changes they can expect to see as you complete your transformation. It's better to have a support system than a partner.
Get help from pros
10"I think most of us believe we are a lot more capable of doing things on our own than our track records suggest," Armour says.
When it comes to achieving New Year's resolutions, there are often professional options for help, whether it is hiring a personal trainer, a professional organizer, a therapist, enrolling in a sponsored diet program or using store-bought aids to help you quit smoking.
Armour suggests setting a timetable -- maybe a few weeks -- for trying it on your own, and if the date expires with little results, it is time to seek help.