Going to Make a New Year’s Resolution? Consider These 5 Tips.

Forty-four percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I know I always do.  Now that I’m obsessed with habits, I’m more inclined to make resolutions than ever, in fact. If my happiness and habits research has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions – made right – can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.

So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds. Here are some tips for making your resolutions as effective as possible. Remember, right now, you’re in the planning stage. Don’t feel like you have to do anything yet! Just start thinking about what would make 2015 a happier year.

1. Ask: “What would make me happier?” It might be having more of something good – more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be having less of something bad – less yelling at your kids, less regretting what you’ve eaten. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right – more time spent volunteering, more time doing something to strengthen a relationship. The more your life reflects your values, the happier you’ll be. That’s why I love habits–habits help me ensure that my life reflects my values.

2. Ask: “What is a concrete habit that would bring about change?” One common problem is that people make abstract resolutions, which are hard to keep.  “Find more joy in life,” or “Enjoy now” are resolutions that are difficult to measure and therefore difficult to keep. Instead, look for a specific, measurable action that can become a habit. “Watch a classic movie every Sunday night“ or “Drink my coffee on my front steps every morning” are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.

3. Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?” Some people resent negative resolutions. They dislike hearing “don’t” or “stop” or adding to their list of chores. If this describes you, try to find positive resolutions: “Take that woodworking class,” “Have lunch with a friend once a week.” Or maybe you respond well to “no.” That’s my situation. A lot of my resolutions are aimed at getting me to stop doing something or to do something I don’t really want to do. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. Follow the one-minute rule.

There’s no right way to make a resolution, but it’s important to know what works for you. As always, the secret is to know your own nature.

For instance, my sister is a “yes” resolver.  Last year, she decided that she wanted to stop eating french fries (her Kryptonite) and that, at least for french fries, she was an Abstainer, not a Moderator. I asked, “But how did you manage to say ‘no’ to yourself?”

She said, “I tell myself: Now I’m free from french fries.” She found the way to see this habit change as a “yes.”

4. Ask: “Am I starting small enough? Or big enough?” Many people make super-ambitious resolutions and then drop them, feeling defeated, before January is over. We tend to over-estimate what we can do over a short time and under-estimate what we can do over a long time, if we make consistent, small steps. If you’re going to resolve to start exercising (one of the most popular resolutions), it might be too much to resolve to go to the gym for an hour every day before work. Start by going for a ten-minute walk at lunch or marching in place once a day during the commercial breaks in your favorite TV show. Little accomplishments provide energy for bigger challenges. Push yourself too hard and you may screech to a halt.

But the opposite of a profound truth is also true, and by contrast, some people do better when they start BIG. If they start small, they lose interest or get discouraged. For them, a big transformation generates an energy and excitement that helps to foster habits. Steve Jobs reflected, “I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why.”

There’s no right or wrong approach. What works for you–do you prefer to aim small or aim big?

5. Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?” For many people, accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions, and there are many ways to hold yourself accountable. I keep my Resolutions Chart (if you’d like to see my chart, for inspiration, email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin.com–just write “resolution chart” in the subject line).  Belonging to a group is a good way to hold yourself accountable, part of why AA and Weight Watchers are effective groups. (For a starter kit for starting a Better Than Before habits group, click here.) Accountability is one reason why #2 is so important. If your resolution is too vague, it’s hard to be held accountable. A resolution to “Eat healthier” is harder to track than “Eat salad for lunch three times a week.”

Special note to Obligers: Obligers, remember that external accountability is the key for you. It’s crucial. If you’re serious about wanting to keep a resolution, you must figure out a way to create external accountability.

Have you found any strategies that have helped you successfully keep resolutions in the past?

For more about keeping your resolutions, check out my book Better Than BeforePre-order now.

Farewell for the Holidays!

Soon I’m off to my beloved hometown of Kansas City, to make gingerbread cookies, do last-minute shopping, drink lots of coffee, and so on. I can’t wait.

I’m taking a holiday from the blog…I’ll be back soon. Have a wonderful holiday.

“I Wear the Chain I Forged in Life…Of My Own Free Will I Wore It.”

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

— Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol

Habits are a chain we forge in life–a chain that can pull us down, or lift us up.

A nice marriage of the theme of habits and the holidays! I’m impressed I pulled that off.

Need an Idea for a Holiday Gift?

Warning: self-promotion to follow. If you don’t like this sort of thing, stop reading now!

Holiday season is upon us, and many people exchange gifts. If you’re trying to think of a good gift for someone, may I suggest…one of my books.

THE HAPPINESS PROJECT

This is certainly my best-known book. I can’t help mentioning: it was on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. Yes, two. It’s a book about the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

Read a sample chapter; watch the 1-minute video; request the book-group discussion guide. Or read more about it here.

HAPPIER AT HOME

I love all my books equally, but my sister says that she thinks that this is my best book. It was such a pleasure to go deeper into the fascinating subject of happiness.  The fact is, if you’re not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy anywhere.  New York Times and international bestseller.

Read a a sample chapter; watch the 1-minute video; request the book-group discussion guide. Or read more about it here.

FORTY WAYS TO LOOK AT WINSTON CHURCHILL

I intended this to be the gateway-drug biography that would introduce Churchill to an audience who knows nothing about him, but I’ve since learned that the people who respond most to the book are those who have already read a lot of books about Churchill. What a subject! It was a joy to write this book.

Read an interview; test your knowledge.

I love getting, and giving, books as gifts.  In my whole life, no gifts have pleased me more than the hardback Little House books that my parents gave me, one each year–with those marvelous illustrations by Garth Williams.

In fact, if you want to give yourself a little holiday treat, re-read the chapter, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” in Little House on the Prairie. I get choked up just thinking about it. “Pa and Ma and Mr. Edwards acted as if they were almost crying. Laura didn’t know why.” I love the detail that Mr. Edwards throws in: “Santa Claus rode well for a man of his weight and build.” Okay, I have to stop, or I will quote the entire chapter.

Fighting Holiday Food Temptation? Try These 13 Tips.

I think a lot about habits, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about habits related to holiday eating.

The holidays are supposed to be a festive time, but many people feel anxiety and regret around food and drink—the holiday season is so full of temptation.

I have to say, I enjoy the holidays much more, now that I’ve got a better grip on my habits, than I used to.

Here are some ways to apply the strategies of habit-change to this challenge:

1. Buy food in small containers. Studies show that people give themselves larger portions out of larger boxes, so I don’t buy that economy box of whatever. Buy the little box of gingerbread cookies, not the giant box.

2. Make tempting food inconvenient—put cookies in a hard-to-reach spot, set the freezer to a very cold temperature so it’s hard to spoon out ice cream, store goodies in hard-to-open containers. The Strategy of Inconvenience is simple, but crazily effective.

3. Wear snug-fitting clothes. That’s the Strategy of Monitoring. When we’re aware of what we’re doing, we behave better.

4. Dish food up in the kitchen, and don’t bring serving platters onto the table (except vegetables).

5. Pile your plate with everything you intend to eat, and don’t get seconds once that food is gone.

6. Skip the add-ons: tell the waiter that you don’t want the side of fries. When I do this, I sometimes feel like Sally from When Harry Met Sally as I quibble about how my food should be served, but oh well.

7. After dinner, to signal to yourself that “Eating’s over,” brush your teeth. I’d heard about this habit, so I decided to try it, but I was skeptical. I’ve been amazed by how effective tooth-brushing is. This is the Strategy of First Steps–because that tooth-brushing is the first step toward bedtime.

8. Don’t allow myself to get too hungry or too full. This is the Strategy of Foundation.

9. Realize that, with some things, you might not be able to have just one bite. I sure can’t. In the abstainer/moderator split, I’m a hard-core abstainer. It’s far easier for me to skip cookies and chocolate than it is to have a sensible portion. The Strategy of Abstaining is not a strategy that works for everyone, but for some people, it’s enormously helpful.

10. Never eat hors d’oeuvres. This kind of bright-line rule, which is an application of the Strategy of Clarity, is very helpful.

11. Don’t eat food I don’t like, just because it’s there. No one cares if I have a serving of asparagus or cranberry sauce.

12, Plan an exception. Planned exceptions are a great way to break a good habit in a way that feels limited, controlled, and positive.

13. Watch for loopholes! Some loopholes that are especially popular during the holidays include the “This doesn’t count” loophole, the “Concern for others” loophole, and the “fake self-actualization” loophole. Remember, we’re adults, and we can mindfully make exceptions to our good habits, but everything counts.

Although it may seem festive and carefree to indulge in lots of treats, in the end, we may feel guilty and overstuffed. Which doesn’t make the holiday happier.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: By giving myself limits, I give myself freedom.

Intrigued? Pre-order my book Better Than Before, in which I reveal the secrets about how we can change our habits–really!

NOTE: Email subscribers, I apologize for the glitch in the emails that you’re getting. It’s such a pain, I know — I’m experiencing it, too. Some terrific tech minds are trying to diagnose and fix the problem, so please bear with me. I hope to get it fixed soon.