Tips for making New Year's resolutions we may actually keep

How to frame some common resolutions — and our very thinking — to ensure success.

How to frame some common resolutions — and our very thinking — to ensure success.

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New year, new beginnings… right? Many of us make goals in early January but find that by the time February rolls around, we're no better off (or even worse off somehow!) than we were before. What if the problem isn't us, but the goals we're making, or how we're making them.

Psychotherapist Janna Comrie believes that, though we may try to make reasonable goals, we are still lacking some key ingredients to ensure that we met them. The first, says Comrie, is purpose. "When we're renovating (our home), we have a plan and we have a sense of why we're putting ourselves through the discomfort of the renovation — a purpose - to increase value of the home, make it more enjoyable for the family. We have a sense of how we will feel when we look at the updated space and what, realistically, will be different. On the days where we're hating the project, this is what helps us to push through."

Comrie believes we also need better self-talk when we encounter failure. We assume we'll achieve our goals flawlessly, so when we hit a bump in the road, we can become unnecessarily hard on ourselves. "We'd never speak to anyone else this way: 'You suck and you're never going to get there so give!', but these are the things we tell ourselves", she says "As we do this repeatedly, we strengthen pathways in the brain, making it more likely that each time we 'fail' or 'have a less or unsuccessful day', this will be (this) automatic thought."

Comrie notes that the key to changing this maladaptive thought process is to challenge those automatic negative thoughts with evidence. She points to psychiatrist Daniel Amen who talks about the need for this process in terms of changing our brains.

"It involves recognizing the negative thought and asking, what is the evidence for it? Is it possible a that there is a different understanding of the evidence (i.e. maybe I'm not weak, just tired today)?", she says. "By going through this process we slow activity in the limbic system (a part of the brain that colours the way we see the world) and increase the likelihood of positive thoughts, including positive views of ourselves and our capabilities. As the limbic activity decreases we also decrease the anxiety which drives the fear or failure and negative thoughts."

While it feels good in the moment to make grand-sounding resolutions, but they often aren't even tangible or measurable goals, let alone ones with a specific plan of action. With that in mind, here's some classic resolutions might be making all wrong:

I want to lose some weight

Not only is this statement vague — how much weight and by when? — but it's not actionable at this level.  You would be better off to articulate the small ways you can sustainably improve your health: eat more whole foods, drink a glass of water between each meal, and watch how you steadily become motivated to keep it up, as you see results.

I want to go to the gym more

Similarly to above, this is a lofty goal with zero substance. How many people have you seen in the gym who do absolutely nothing? Set your sights on smaller physical habits you can maintain and get moving; take a stretch break at work every hour, go for a walk on your lunch, get out of bed 20 minutes earlier and commit to getting an aerobic workout in on 3 specific days of the week. Once you truly make physical activity part of your daily routine, it's far easier to start adding more.

I want to find love

No great romance story starts off with "Well, I was looking for love…". Of course, we'd all like to find it, but you can't go from A to Z, especially if you haven't even left your house. Get social before you get romantic - introduce yourself to one new person a week, go out with friends to restaurants or bars you haven't tried yet - keeping an open mind while experiencing new environments will put you in a far better place than waiting for someone to propose.

I want to make more money

The real sentiment behind this goal for many is that we want to be in a better financial position, and that can be achieved many ways. Before you focus on the money coming in, you might better control the money going out, for instance; we all have expenses we can cut or trim and there are ways to set goals around that. Examples are: make your coffee at home, use more wifi instead of going over on your data allotment, review all of your monthly bills and see if you can get better deals. Making more money is fruitless if you're destined to waste it.

I want to kick my bad habit

Vices, big and small, can become unhealthy compulsions that quickly get out of hand. From smoking to social media, a lot of our habits take our focus away from the real world, which is unhealthy in itself. But instead of putting your effort on quitting one habit, consider squeezing it out by picking up a new one. Saying I'm going to spend time on my hobby every evening (knitting, curling, backgammon ANYTHING!) instead of spending it online (insert your social media platform time-suck here) can ensure that you meet your goal and have some fun and leave less space for whatever is draining you.