My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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This Wednesday: Twelve tips for keeping your resolutions after the zeal of 1/1/08 has worn off.

ResolutionEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Twelve tips for sticking to your resolutions after the zeal of 1/1/08 has worn off.

Some 44% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. I loooooove resolutions and make them constantly – I’m a big believer in the power of small changes to make us happier.

But it can be hard to stick to a resolution. Here are twelve tips for following through on a resolution as the year progresses:

1. Write it down – and be specific. Don’t try to “make more friends”; instead, “start a movie group,” “remember birthdays,” “say hello,” “make plans.”

2. Review your resolution constantly. If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it’s easier to stick to it.

3. Hold yourself accountable. Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart — whatever works for you to make yourself feel accountable for success and failure.

4. 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. Let yourself imagine anything, and plan from there.

5. Think small. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference. Just keeping your fridge cleared out could give you a real boost. Look close to home for ways to improve and grow.

6. Break your main resolution into smaller, more manageable tasks. Also, a long to-do list will give you a feeling of progress as you work toward a distant goal.

7. Keep your resolution every day. Weirdly, it’s often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail) than every few days.

8. Set a deadline.

9. Don’t give up if something interferes with your deadline.

10. Ask for help. Why is this so hard? But every time I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much easier my task becomes.

11. 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. Instead of cleaning out the whole basement, tackle one closet this afternoon. If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.

Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson are the two patron saints of those who make resolutions. Benjamin Franklin’s virtue charts inspired me to do my own resolution charts (if you’d like to see my charts, drop me an email at grubin [that add the “at” symbol] gretchenrubin [add the “dotcom” part]).

I laugh every time I read the entry from Samuel Johnson’s diary on his 51st birthday in September 1760. He has a long list of resolutions, and he concludes with four resolutions to begin at once:

Rise as early as I can.
Send for books for Hist. of war.
Put books in order.
Scheme life.

“Scheme life!” Now that’s a resolution.

His first resolution, “Rise as early as I can,” brings me to Tip #12: Consider giving up a resolution.

For his whole life, Johnson vowed to start getting up early, and he remained a late riser. But he managed to get quite a bit accomplished, anyway. So give it up, Dr. Johnson! Sleep late, and enjoy it!

If you keep making and breaking a resolution, consider whether you should relinquish it entirely. 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.

And if one of your resolutions is to drink more water, don’t worry about it! This is a myth! You do NOT need to drink more water!

I often stop by Marginal Revolution, and with this visit, was rewarded with a post about the relationship between money and happiness — one of the most complicated and misunderstood sub-topics within the subject of happiness.

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