The Little Guide to Making that New Year’s Resolution Stick

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”
Flora Whittemore

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”
Brian Tracy

It’s a brand new year and I am guessing that many have their New Year’s resolution enthusiastically in mind. But how can you make the resolution something that sticks rather than something that gets abandoned in a month or so?

Well, first, focus on just developing one habit or making one change at a time. And make sure that it is a change YOU want in your life and that you have your own reasons for making it. Trying to make a change because of what other people want rarely lasts and this is in the end your life to live.

With those two basic guidelines in mind, here are a handful of tips that have been most helpful for me to make positive and lasting changes in my life.

Do it in small steps.

What holds us back in our zone of comfort is often a fear that facing that fear head on all at once might be overwhelming. Or it becomes too uncomfortable and difficult to make a big leap and make a big change all at once and so in February that gym card gathers dust in your wallet.

Taking small steps is a solution to those problem. It allows you to stretch your comfort zone and slowly make it less uncomfortable and frightening.

  • Become more social. Let’s say you want to be less nervous and awkward in social situations. To solve that you can take small steps. Steps like first just saying hi to people. And being more involved in conversations at work or in school to exercise your conversation muscles. After a while those things will feel more comfortable. And so you can expand your comfort zone a little bit more.
  • Become more effective. You can start with just working 1 hour a day fully focused on your most important tasks in cone of silence (this means to shut out and shut off all distractions like the internet, the phone, the door to your office etc. as best you can). And then go back to your normal routine. The next week you can add an hour and work two fully focused hours a day. Step by step you build a more powerful habit that may feel uncomfortable at first.
  • Create something new. When I was going to start making my own products I was hesitant. I was just used to writing blog posts and putting together a whole book seemed like fun but was definitely outside of my comfort zone. So I took a small step and put together a smaller e-book at first that I give away for free to new newsletter subscribers.
  • Exercise. Run for just five minutes three times a week for the first week. Then during week two run for 10 minutes three times. Add 5 minutes of running at a time to slowly and more easily get comfortable with this new change.

By doing things this way you gradually desensitize yourself to social situations, to a new way of working or whatever you are uncomfortable with. You make it the new “normal” for you.

So, identify where you want to go or how you want to improve your life. Then make a plan with some smaller steps you can take to gradually lessen your discomfort.

Set the goal but focus on the daily process.

I for instance use this when I write and when I workout. I don’t take responsibility for the results in my mind. I take responsibility for showing up and doing my workout/writing X number of times per week. The results – I become stronger and the website/my products grow – come anyway from that consistent action. And this makes it easier for me to take action when I know that is all I need to focus on. Instead of using half of the energy and focus I have available on hoping that I “reach my goal real, real soon”.

Focus on the process and you will be a lot more relaxed and prone to continue than if you stare yourself blind on the potential results that never come as quickly as you want to and puts you on an emotional roller coaster from day to day.

Let other people help you out.

This is so important. Do not try to do it all alone. If you’re about to quit smoking ask others who have overcome the addiction what their best tips are. Do some research online and offline. This can save you pain, frustration and it can help you to keep going.

If you like you can also tell people your goals – face to face, via email, on Facebook or your blog etc. – to get accountability and motivation to take action. And/or you can find someone – an accountability buddy – who wants to make the same change that you want and that can make things easier.

Or you can just get an accountability buddy that has a New Year’s resolution of any kind. And then the two of you can check up on each other each week to make sure you are taking the practical steps forward and to encourage each other when you stumble.

Find a way that fits you.

Different things fit different people. It did for example take me quite some time of trying different ways to do cardio exercise before I finally found body weight exercises. And it did take me a while to find productivity habits that makes me very consistent and the same time kept stress down to a minimum.

Experiment and find what works for you and what fits your personality. This will make it a lot easier to stick to your positive change and develop a relaxed consistency.

Find ways to overcome the things that cause you to relapse into old behavior.

Stress may cause you to feel like smoking again. If so, find a few relaxation techniques that can help you. Worry may lead you to eating too much to feel better. If that is an issue that pops up for you then learn to reduce your worries in life. If you get stuck in inaction learn how to up your enthusiasm and motivation quickly or to just take action anyway.

Find ways to turn bad days or moments into something positive once again.

Use laziness to your advantage.

I’m kinda lazy. But I use that to my advantage by for example not having any sweets or cookies in my cupboards. I only have healthy stuff there. Since I may feel the craving for something sweet or a snack from time to time but I am too lazy to go to the store I wind up eating what I have at home. A simple habit that has helped me to improve my health.

I also know that I am too lazy to go to the gym or go out running three times a week. So I workout at home. This has helped me to have very good consistency.

Such small, invisible barriers can have a great impact on your daily life in the long run. Remove them or use them or to your advantage.

Use daily reminders in your environment.

I have written about this many, many times since it have found it very helpful for staying on track and making a change stick.

Simply write down your goal/new habit on paper and put it where you can’t avoid seeing it every day. Your fridge, bathroom mirror and workspace are such places.

Don’t beat yourself up when you slip.

You will most likely have a few bad days and fall flat on your face even if you follow the tips above. The important thing here is to not be too hard on yourself and keep on beating yourself up for a week. That could certainly lead to giving up altogether. Plus, it’s kinda pointless.

Instead, learn what you can from the experience so you don’t have to repeat it too many times. Then get back on the horse again the next day. And keep going.

Take one small step today to get the ball rolling.

Don’t get stuck in planning. Or thinking that you will get started tomorrow or next week. Get the ball rolling instead. Do that today by just taking one small, practical step towards what you want.

P.S: A big thank you to everyone who participated in the short survey before the holidays! I got a ton of great ideas for articles, newsletters and premium guides to create in 2012.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Great blog post…I think doing things in small steps is a great way to avoid the problem of procrastination.

    Also allowing others to help prevents us from feeling overwhelmed.

    Thanks for the read

  • Nice post. Most people don’t stick to their resolutions because they either set incredibly bad goals ( ‘I want to lose weight’ vs ‘ I want to lose 10 kg by the end of February) or they try to achieve their goals via pure willpower.

    Willpower alone doesn’t work, you need to change your environment and use your friends/family to help you out.

    Thanks for taking the time to write that post. A lot of people will be able to use it!

    • Thank you! Very true about willpower. It seems to me that one only has a small amount of willpower to access but many believe that they can power through to the end by using it it. And then comes the disappointment in oneself when that doesn’t work. Focusing on support and building habits is much more sustainable.

  • k

    Dear Henrik,

    Thank you for this AMAZING blog post. This is extremely helpful. Small baby steps. Your encournagement and guidance has inspired me to GET THE BALL ROLLING:)

    Wishing you a merry New Year. May 2012 bring you great Joy and Success.

    Light and peace xo

    • Awesome, happy to help you to get the ball rolling! And I wish the same for you in 2012! :)

  • I don’t for a second think you’re lazy. But I do the same thing as you do. Fifteen years ago, I lost 20% of my body weight and have kept it off all these years doing exactly what you mentioned. I don’t keep junk in the house. If I want something sweet or fatty, I have to leave the house to go get it and like you, I usually stay put and eat whatever is in the house which is always healthy. It works.

    • Well, actually, I often look for the simple and easy and what one may call the sometimes lazy solutions. Great to hear about your success too, that simple habit sure works in the long run even if it may not sound that impressive or powerful.

  • Great reminders. I don’t typically make resolutions…and this year is no exception. I think I try to have constant goals to be better…instead of the once a year deciding to make a goal. ;o) I know what it is like to take baby steps, as I went from never running (unless I was forced to in school) up until a year ago…to running 2 half marathons and a myriad of other races in-between in just this last year. As we go into 2012…I need to get back on track with my running…as I have races coming up. Your reminders on taking baby steps will help me stay kind to myself as I move forward towards my running goals in 2012. =) Thank you!

    • Thank you for the kind words and for sharing how baby steps has worked so well for you. And I’m happy that you feel that the reminders will help you to get back on track again. Have a wonderful 2012 on and off the races!

  • Andrea

    Henrik, I approach exercise the same way you do. I work out at home first thing in the morning, because I know I wouldn’t be motivated to leave the house to do it! Also, I don’t focus on the long-range goal of weight loss or body shaping. I focus on the process of being a person who exercises 5 times a week. However, I do think about daily benefits of exercise such as decreased stress, improved mood, better sleep as I’m sweating away each morning! Thanks for your blog. I’m going back and reading your old posts every morning with my coffee. Great way to start the day!

    • Sounds like you have an effective but relaxed approach to your exercise there. And a morning habit that is, as I have learned, not that uncommon because I usually get a bunch of emails each month telling me how people go over the archive while having breakfast. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful 2012!

  • Hey Henrik, I was raised on the philosophy of ‘if you want something done, do it yourself.’ I often find it really difficult to shake this off; particularly when people don’t live up to my expectations.
    I am going to try and follow your advice and ‘let other people help me out.’ Thanks for the advice! Jason

  • Great and practical points there Hendrik! Forcing yourself to focus on the small means much less overwhelm thinking of the big picture of everything you want to ‘achieve’. Working on the small also means you live more in the present moment too, meaning less attachment & anxiety to the outcome. Also, LOVE your idea about only healthy food at home!! It would totally work for me if I did it! Just had strawberries and chocolate for breakfast…though don’t have a weight problem so I’m not going to over think it.

  • Prsanna

    Your tips always awasome and useful. You are one of my best reader. I thought I will contribute one tip to track your habbit. I came across This is very useful to track the progress of your habit

  • Geraldine

    This is the first year I can remember that I didn’t make any resolutions. I like the one above about using laziness to our advantage though, I’ve done that. Good way to use up the fridge food first LOL. Happy new year Henrik! You’re the best.

    If you/your readers are on Facebook,can you help Mr. Cheddar:

    Please vote for Mr. Cheddar:

    thanks so much! G

  • Vic

    Hi Henrik,

    You always have the best advice to give. Thanks for making the blogoshpere a little more enjoyable.

    Step by is really the key. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step.

  • rebecca

    Read a wonderful book over the holidays: In Sheep’s Clothing (dealing with manipulative and aggressive people). Consequently, this New Year’s resolution is to reconsider the battles I fight and to abandon those that are no-win, lose-only battles. All those do is rob one’s motivation and lead to depression.

  • I have been accustomed to plan out huge projects or changes with my life but I have not started any from my list. Maybe because they are so huge and I do not know where to start.

    You have some great points there. What I started doing is listing my small steps and little by little, I am accomplishing something.

  • My first time on your blog, but will be back often.
    Thank you.

  • This is great information, Henrik! It is so valuable for the many people who are set on sticking with their New Year’s Resolutions and it’s important to stay on track. This is the basis for my self-help book that teaches people how to get logical versus settle for emotional roadblocks.

    Gail Kasper – Motivational Speaker and Author,
    Unstoppable: 6 Easy Steps To Achieve Your Goals